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Using FreeMind to Draft Controversy Maps

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Image Credit: 

A variation on the FreeMind logo, using both the butterfly and the light bulb. (Made by Dyvim using Inkscape)

Brief Assignment Overview: 

In this week-long assignment, students draw on stasis theory to generate a visualization of available arguments in a controversy.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Required Materials: 

For computer classroom (with Freemind software):

- FreeMind software

- 3-4 viewpoint articles on a single topic, assigned by the instructor or chosen by individual students

For a traditional classroom (no computers or no Freemind):

- large paper or posterboard

- 3-4 viewpoint articles on a single topic, assigned by the instructor or chosen by individual students

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This lesson plan draws on stasis theory, and aims to help students visualize their controversy before composing Essay 1 (the Controversy Map). 

Before coming to class, students read a chapter on stasis theory (I assigned a chapter from Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, but any textbook chapter on stasis theory will be adequate). To open class, students discussed the reading, and we reviewed four points of stasis (conjecture, definition, quality, policy) and the common questions that characterize those stasis points. 

Next, I had students assemble in small groups (3-4 students per group). Each group created a Mind Map using FreeMind software. I asked each group to create a map with four arms—one for each point of stasis. 

Each group then reviewed four articles I provided. I asked each group to record the arguments made by each author, and to map those arguments onto the appropriate stasis, using FreeMind. Two examples of the students' Mind Maps are displayed below:

Students then uploaded their Mind Maps to our course workspace (on As a class, we viewed and compared each group's map. We discussed the similarities and differences between maps, and speculated on how and why these differences can exist.

Before the next lesson, I imported each group's Mind Map, and I combined their Maps into one comprehensive Map:

During the next class meeting, we viewed the comprehensive Map as a group. We noted that all authors responded to questions of conjecture (per our example: "Does gentrification exist?") similarly. Referring back to stasis theory, we agreed that no substantive debate was taking place at the conjecture stasis.
We also noted, however, that authors tended to respond to questions of definition ("What is gentrification?") quite differently. The Map above demonstrates this point visually; the definition stasis (mapped in the top left corner) shows that authors tend to make more arguments at this stasis than at others. In the same vein, authors tend to respond to questions of quality (mapped in the bottom right corner) in various ways, depending on what definition they adopt.
Finally, we noted that discussion at the policy stasis (bottom left corner) is sparse, and we hypothesized (drawing on stasis theory) that authors cannot yet speculate on policy because they have not agreed on definition and value questions.
After discussing the comprehensive map, I asked students to use the remainder of class time to create their own Mind Maps for their chosen controversies. This assignment gave students the opportunity to conduct more research in class, and it helped students begin to visualize the field of their controversies. At the end of class, we discussed the relationship of their Mind Maps to their first major essay. I recommended that students use their Mind Maps to think about the landscape of the debate, and to help them draw connections between various viewpoints.
This assignment can be condensed into one class period, if the instructor does not wish to do the preliminary group exercise. 
This assignment can also be adapted to traditional classrooms if the instructor provides materials to create physical (pen and paper) Maps.
Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Instructors wishing to implement the preliminary group exercise should select 3-4 viewpoint articles on the same topic, and make those articles available to students. Additionally, instructors should familiarize themselves with the FreeMind software. Instructors should also determine how (and where) students should save completed Mind Maps, since most campuse computers will not support FreeMind.

Instructions For Students: 


1. Assemble in groups of 3-4 students, and create a Mind Map with the topic in the center (gentrification, in our example), and four arms protruding from the center. Each arm should represent one point of stasis.

2. As a group, review the articles provided. As you read, record the various arguments (both thesis and claims) each author makes.

3. Record the arguments in the Mind Map, linking individual arguments with the appropriate stasis. For example, an author who argues that gentrification is a problem in which race is central is making a definitional argument. This argument woud need to be recorded on the "Definition" arm.


1. Examine the comprehensive map created by the instructor. Reflect on (and/or discuss) how the map represents the field of the controversy. Based on the Map, how would you describe the controversy? 

2. Using the research you have conducted on your own controversy, create a new map that records the various positions in your chosen debate.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

Students completed this assignment as part of the Learning Record, but instructors may have their own strategies for evaluation. While the maps do not lend themselves to a quantitative grade, instructors may ask students to compose written reflections on group Maps and individual Maps. These written reflections may be more easily evaluated based on the students understanding of stasis theory.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

This exercise is successful as a pre-writing exercise in Unit 1. Students are often confused when asked to describe the "field" or the "big picture" of a controversy in Essay 1, but this assignment helps them by representing this "field" or "big picture" visually. 

At the end of Unit 1, some students remarked that, in writing Essay 1, they needed only to describe linguistically what they could observe visually on their individual Mind Maps.

This exercise was also successful in introducing stasis theory.

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