Class Notes EDIS 771: Reading in Content Areas
Spring 1999
Thomas H. Estes, Instructor
University of Virginia

Strategies for Reading to Learn

Semantic Maps

 

Description

Semantic mapping is a strategy for graphically representing concepts. Semantic maps portray the schematic relations that compose a concept. It assumes that there are multiple relations between a concept and the knowledge that is associated with the concept. Thus, for any concept there are at least these three types of associations:

  1. associations of class-- the order of things the concept falls into;
  2. associations of property-- the attributes that define the concept; and
  3. associations of example-- exemplars of the concept.

For example, Pearson and Johnson offer the example of the concept of "federal," attached. Notice that federal is in the class of things called "forms of government." It is one of many such forms, including monarchy, patriarchy, plutocracy, etc. The properties of federal include a) the uniting common interests of various political units like sovereign states and b) the division of power among subunits like the legislative, judicial, and executive units of our own government. Examples of the federal form of government include the governments of the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Procedure

A semantic map is created in a dialog among students and their teacher, and it will always go something like what follows as a hypothetical case:

Teacher: Tell me some things that come to mind when you think of the word "ecology."

Student(s): Environment. Pollution? Conservation! Recycling. Has it got anything to do with the "-olgy" on the end of the word?

Teacher: (listing words on chalkboard) You've got some good ideas here and I think you've studied this before. Since you mention the "-olgy" part of the word, it might help if I tell you that the "eco-" part of the word comes into English from a Greek word for "house."

Student(s): Ha! It's the study of our house!

Teacher: Sounds good to me, but we don't mean house in the usual sense here, do we. It's more like the idea of where we live, right?

Student(s): But isn't it about how we treat the house? Like respect for our environment? And cleaning up after ourselves?

Teacher: O.K., let's put that down, too. Anything else you remember about this idea of ecology?

 

In a conversation like this, it is almost inevitable that relations of the 3 basic kinds (class, example, and property) will emerge. Ecology is a kind of study. Ecology is exemplified by cleaning up after ourselves, protecting the environment, conservation, and recycling; it is not pollution. One property of ecology is the idea of respect. As the conversation proceeds, other ideas of these sorts of relations might emerge and can then be rearranged on the chalkboard or overhead transparency into a proper semantic map.

The major purpose of the semantic map is to allow students to organize their prior knowledge into these formal relations and thus to provide themselves a basis for understanding what they are re about to read and study. Comprehension can be thought of as the elaboration and refinement of prior knowledge. What the semantic map provides is a graphic structure of that knowledge to be used as the basis for organizing new ideas as they are understood.

References:

Pearson, P. D. & Johnson, D. D. (1978). Teaching Reading Comprehsnsion. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Olson, M. W. & Gee, T. C. (1991). Content reading instruction in the primary grades: Perceptions and Strategies. Reading Teacher, 45, 298-307.

Return to ReadingQuest.