The 8 Type of Thinking Maps Explained with Editable Templates

When it comes to teaching and learning, visuals play a major role in simplifying things. And thinking maps have proven to be an effective visual language for both students and teachers at all grades across many disciplines.  

In this post, we have covered the 8 types of thinking maps and how to use them. Editable templates for each diagram type is provided as well. You can use them right away. Export them as PNG, SVG or JPEG to include in your documents, presentations or take printouts. 

What are Thinking Maps

Thinking maps include methods that help visualize your thinking or represent your abstract thoughts with concrete visuals. Thinking maps enable meaningful learning as they help organize ideas and information in a way that is easy to understand. 

They also help break down complex information into easily comprehensible sections and discover connections in between. And they can be very useful during critical and creative thinking exercises. 

Developed by David Hyerle, thinking maps contain 8 types of graphic organizers. Each thinking map is based on a fundamental thinking process or linked to a specific cognitive skill and serves different purposes. They are popularly used in primary and secondary education and is a widely used teaching technique

  • Circle Map – Defining in context and brainstorming 
  • Bubble Map – Describing using adjectives 
  • Flow Map – Ordering and sequencing 
  • Brace Map – Depicting the whole of something and its parts 
  • Tree Map – Classifying and grouping 
  • Double Bubble Map – Comparing and contrasting 
  • Multi-flow map – analyzing causes and effects 
  • Bridge map – Seeing analogies 

There are several benefits to using thinking maps in education

  • Helps with learning and retaining information easily
  • Can be used in different disciplines and in different grade levels
  • Allows students the freedom to explore their critical or creative thinking skills
  • Supports continuous cognitive development 
  • Serves as a common language that is easy to understand for both teachers and students

Types of Thinking Maps with Editable Thinking Map Templates

Circle Map

The circle map is a tool that is used to describe something or convey our understanding of a topic. It’s a great tool for both individual and group brainstorming activities. 

How to create a circle map 

Step 1 – Start by drawing a circle in the center of the canvas or paper. Write down the topic you’ll be focusing on, inside it. 

Step 2 – Draw a larger circle around it, and brainstorm and write down everything you know about the topic within. Here you can use nouns, adjectives or verbs to describe what you know. 

Step 3 – Draw a square around the larger circle. This box is known as the “frame of reference” and is used to indicate how you gathered your knowledge about the topic. For example, did somebody tell you about it? Did you see it in a documentary? 

Circle Map Template
Circle Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Bubble Map

Bubble maps are used to describe a subject using adjectives. Bubble maps can be very useful when analyzing a character from a novel or story, introducing new lessons to the classroom, etc. 

How to create a bubble map

Step 1 – Draw a circle and write down the topic of your choice in the middle of it. 

Step 2 – Add connecting circles around the main topic in the center. In these you can write down adjectives, characteristics, etc. that describe the subject. 

Bubble Map Template
Bubble Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Flow Map

The flow map represents the flow of something. It can be used to organize information in a logical order, sequence steps of a process or event and identify patterns.

The flow map contains a series of boxes linked by arrows and can be drawn horizontally and vertically. Images can also be used in place of boxes to convey the sequence. 

How to create a flow map 

Step 1 – Start by identifying the steps of the event. Put them down on a flow map in a logical order to represent the sequence. 

Step 2 – Add substages as necessary. Substages are the smaller boxes below the main steps. They can be used to break down a key step into sub-steps. Substages should be connected to the main sequence with lines and not arrows.

Flow Map Template
Flow Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Brace Map

Brace maps are used to show the components of a concrete object or event.  For example, the parts of a car. It shouldn’t be used for something abstract like a concept or idea, which you cannot physically break apart. 

How to create a brace map 

Step 1 – Begin the map with the object you are breaking apart. 

Step 2 – Brainstorm and add its components or what the main object is made of in front it, connected by a brace/bracket. 

Step 3 – Subdivide the components as necessary. Connect these to the map with braces as well. 

Brace Map Template
Brace Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Tree Map

The tree map is used to categorize and organize information. You can use this to plan out essays or speeches by listing down sentences or paragraphs under the sub-categories. Or you can use it in math to show different types of equations. 

How to create a tree map 

Step 1 – On the top of the canvas, place the main subject or idea your map would be about. For example, it could be different types of food. 

Step 2 – Place the supporting categories underneath the main topic connected by lines. In our example, these would be vegetables, fruits, meat, etc. 

Step 3 – List down examples or supporting details under each sub-category. For example, you can write down types of vegetables under the related category. 

Tree Map Template
Tree Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Double Bubble Map

You can use the double bubble map to identify different and similar qualities between two things such as characters, books, cultures, etc.

The two center circles represent the subjects you are analyzing. The circles that are common to both topics contain similarities while others represent differences. 

You can also use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast things but in comparison, the double bubble map is more organized. 

How to create a double bubble map

Step 1 – Define the two things you are comparing. Here you can use a bubble map or a circle map to identify the characteristics of the two items. 

Step 2 – Referring to the maps you created earlier, compare and contrast the two ideas using a double bubble map.

Double Bubble Map Template Thinking Maps
Double Bubble Map (Click on the template to edit it online)

Multi-Flow Map

The multi-flow map can be used to identify the causes and effects of a situation. For example, you can use it to depict a historical incident like the World War.

In a multi-flow map, the causes do not correspond with the effects, but the situation. You can also draw a multi-flow map representing only causes or only effects as necessary. 

How to create a multi-flow map

Step 1 – Write down the event or situation you want to analyze in the middle of the canvas. For an example World War 1. 

Step 2 – In the boxes on the left side of the map, write down the causes. In our example, these could be the rise of nationalism, militarism, imperialism. 

Step 3 – In the boxes on your right-hand side, write down the effects of the event that took place. In our example, these could be the downfall of monarchies such as Germany, Turkey, Russia, etc., the end of colonialism and so on.

Multi-Flow Map Template Thinking Maps
Multi-Flow Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

Bridge Map

The bridge map can be used to understand the relationships between words or show analogies between ideas or objects. Bridge maps can be used to assess prior knowledge or do fill-in-the-blank exercises. 

How to use the bridge map 

Step 1 – Draw the “as” pyramid. Place the two information pairs on each side of the pyramid as shown below. Make sure that they are written in a format that can be used in a sentence.

Step 2 – Define the relating factor that will help connect the two pairs of information. Writing it down will help you follow the correct sentence pattern. 

Bridge Map Template Thinking Maps
Bridge Map Template (Click on the template to edit it online)

How Are You Using the Thinking Maps in the Classroom? 

In this post, we have covered the 8 types of thinking maps. However, there are many other types of diagrams and techniques that help with teaching, learning, brainstorming and basically visualizing any idea or concept.

Some of them include concept maps, fishbone diagram, mind map, flowchart, storyboards etc. Here are some useful resources you can refer to learn about these other techniques in more detail. 

 Ultimate Flowchart Tutorial

The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps

The Ultimate Guide to Fishbone Diagrams

Mind Map Examples To Visualize and Organize Your Ideas

The Ultimate List of Visual Creative Thinking Techniques

The Ultimate List of Essential Visual Brainstorming Techniques

Any tips on using these thinking maps effectively? Share with us in the comments section below.


Amanda Athuraliya

Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.


  1. Vanessa

    I use brace maps often outside of the job to organize. Good to see the others as well.

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