The power of Mind Mapping and S-Town

One of the much over-looked tools I use in Storytelling class is mind mapping.  In the very first class I ask the students to think of a central metaphor – something such as a family heirloom or an image that represents them or what is really important to them.  Then I ask them to think about the journey of their life – whether young or old we’ve all had experiences throughout time: places, people, good and bad things that have happened to us.  We also talk about time and how it is represented:  linear, in a wheel of spokes, in boxes like a comic book or in up or down ways. Now draw your life using whatever symbols or images you wish but no words.

Some students are completely baffled or say “I can’t draw.”  But there is no right or wrong way to do it and no judgement.  Stick people or elaborate faces – it doesn’t matter.  Some know the central image of their life and others have to ponder on it for a long time.  Some are detailed and want to work on it, making every image perfect.  Others are quick and general.

It’s always so interesting for me to see what they do, how much and what they reveal.  I’ve seen this exercise bring people out of shyness, create a bond when people realize what they have in common, surprise others with artistic skill.  No one believes the images without words will speak but they do.

I’m currently listening to the This American Life podcast called S-Town.  It’s a fascinating journey about a guy that restored old clocks, created sun dials and mazes.  Everyone around him had a perception of who he was but did anyone really know him?  The mind mapping I do with my classes are what they want others to know but something happens in the exercise – a layer is pulled back – it’s a freedom from using words to describe.

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