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.
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.?
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.
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.