Top Teaching > Ruth Manna > Heart Maps and Writing

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Heart Maps and Writing

DSC00694.JPG[1] My students create heart maps early in the school year and keep them in their writing folders so they can refer back to them when they write poetry or when they’re stuck about what to write.

I learned about heart maps from one of poet and author Georgia Heard's books about teaching writing, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. This inspiring and practical handbook for teachers is full of adaptable ideas that will help establish a classroom environment that fosters a love of poetry and poetry writing. 

READ ON to find out how to make heart maps in your class.



Awakening-330[1] A heart map is a visual reminder of all a student loves and cares about. It expands students’ minds and helps them think broadly about what really matters. In doing so, students move away from writing about superficial topics, and travel to a deeper place inside themselves. You'll find your students express themselves more authentically and honestly when they write about what they love and value.







Step 1: Make Your Own Heart Map

Use the questions below to help you organize your thoughts:

  • What has really affected your heart?
  • What people have been important to you?
  • What are some experiences or central events you'll never forget?
  • What happy or sad memories do you have?
  • What secrets have you kept in your heart? (Don’t share the secret, but find a metaphor for it.)
  • What small things or objects are important to you? A tree in the backyard, a stuffed animal, etc.?

Melissa_heartMap[1] Heart maps include drawings, words, or a combination of both. When I made my heart map, I used pictures and just a few words. I drew people, events, and things that are most important to me at the center of my heart map, and put less important things around the outside. My family members and home are at the center of my heart map along with my love of music. Because I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, I made a border of waves around the outside of my map. Students, books, travel, and maple trees all have places on my map. Once you’ve made a heart map you'll be prepared to help students make theirs, and you’ll have empathy for those who find this assignment challenging.

Illustration above: kindergarten heart map.

Heart map Step 2: Preparation   

First I make multiple copies of a small heart-shaped template on 8½" X 11" copy paper so students can create a plan.

For the actual maps I use 12" X 18" white construction paper and make the largest hearts I can. I trace and cut out hearts ahead time, so students can spend class time thinking and drawing. When completed hearts are folded in half, they will fit in the pockets of my students’ writing folders.

You may also refer to a PDF of detailed directions for making heart maps.



Above: 6th grade heart map.

Step 3: Getting Started

Start with a brief conversation. Make sure students understand they need to fill the entire space with words, drawings, or a combination of the two. Use your heart map as a model. In subsequent years, you can use copies of student heart maps as examples. Have students sketch their plans on a template and check the plans before giving students large paper hearts.

After students draw and write with pencil on their hearts, they trace their drawings with ultra-fine point, black Sharpies and color their pictures with watercolor markers or colored pencils.


Eighth grade heart map.

Step 4: Sharing Time

As students complete their heart maps, set aside time for sharing at the end of writing class or during Morning Meeting. Some students may not feel like it, but most will share at least one or two things from their maps.

After students have shared, they fold their maps and put them in their writing folders. Later on they will use their heart maps for writing poetry.

VARIATION ON HEART MAPS: One year my 6th graders created 12-panel storyboards about "Twelve Things That Changed My Life." Sixth graders are mature enough and have lived long enough to be able to reflect on their lives and come up with twelve important events. Among things 6th grade students included were the birth of a younger sibling, a move to a new town, a death or a divorce in the family, and the adoption of a pet.

 NEXT WEEK: Read about writing poetry with heart maps.



  • #1 Ruth Manna

    Friday, February 04, 2011 at 06:24 PM

    Hi Cassie,
    Thanks for your comments. Please send me a photo or two of your heart books and I will post them here on! I can't wait to hear how your heart books turn out!
    Best wishes!

  • #2 Cassie

    Thursday, February 03, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    I am writing to thank you for this great idea! I am using it as a starting point for a larger journal writing lesson with my first grade class. My students are going to write about the things they include in their heart map, and then each pick one entry to revise and publish in our class "Heart Book." Thanks again!

  • #3 Ruth Manna

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 07:42 PM

    Thanks for your comments! I really like your ideas about "mining your heart" and using the heart as a cross-curricular activity!

  • #4 Sabura

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 03:16 PM

    This would be great as a cross curricular activity. Students could do a parallel lesson in science about the circulatory system and discuss it's importance in body function. In math they could measure, graph and compare heart rates. In addition to poetry they could read selections with the heart as a theme (the tell tale heart, biographies, science articles, etc).

    I think the enrichment will provide students with a depth of experiences to draw from as they write.

  • #5 M. Da Silva

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 07:34 AM

    Great Idea. I do something similar in my classroom at the beginning of the year. It is called 'Mining Your Heart'. They include things that are important to them on their hearts. The kids love it. It is a great lead into writing. Great Post.

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