art · collecting · heart maps · Nancie Atwell · writing · writing workshop

Heart Mapping & Writing Territories

I’ve been having my students map their hearts, to help them generate ideas for writing, when they’re stuck, for as long as I’ve been teaching. However, last week when I was at the TCRWP’s Summer Institute for the Teaching of Writing, the words “writing territories” seemed to be mentioned everywhere. I was familiar with this term, but hadn’t heard too many people talk about writing territories at T.C. prior to last week.

If you’re unfamiliar with writing territories, here’s the skinny:

  • In the words of Don Murray (paraphrased): Most of us have two or three topics that we write about over and over again.
  • Writing territories should be listed in a broad way and can include names of people or places that are important to a person.
  • Once a person knows their territories, they can create a web with the territory in the center and then create branches off of the center. Those branches will later become entries in the person’s writer’s notebook.

I’m thinking about abandoning heart mapping in September and trying out writing territories. I’m just trying to think of a cutesy way to have the kids create their territories page so that the activity is memorable for them. (Not just for the sake of hanging them outside like I did last year.)

If you’ve done an artsy writing territories activity, then PLEASE leave a comment on this post. Thank you!

11 thoughts on “Heart Mapping & Writing Territories

  1. I stumbled upon this conversation and hope it is not too late to throw in something….
    There is a wonderful poem to use for inspiratin for “mapping the heart’ – best used with older students/adults….
    Map of the Heart by Judi K. Beach. Appears in her anthology
    How Far Light Must Travel, published 2007 by Fithian Press,
    McKinleyville, CA. I use it often in writing workshops – especially if I’m using the idea of Heart Maps or Mapping A Life..


  2. As I read your entry I think heart mapping is the beginning of defining territories and then from there you could create a web with details from a section of your heart map. I don’t know if I would abandon the heart mapping, children connect and understand this as a starting point for writers.


  3. Stacey,

    I am all into writing territories. Last year I had my kids do a lesson created by Nancy Atwell, that I modified and made my own, based on the George Ella Lyon poem, “Where I’m from”. If you are not familiar with it, here is a link'm_from_poem.htm. I introduced the topic by first sharing with my students boxes of different candies from the decades of the 50’s-80’s. We then talked about what candies from their own decade are unique to them. This led to other discussions about trends, and stories of youth. I had created my own “Where I’m from” poem on growing up in the 80’s and had my mom create one from the 60’s. The kids’ assignment was to go home, using Atwell’s idea form, and interviewed their parents, grandparents, etc. then filled it out on themselves as well. We created parallel poems that the kids put to power points and found images to use with the various slides. The kids found out that their poem had turned into a writing territories list that we could paste into their writing journals. That was just one of the writing territories activities I did to introduce the idea to my 6th graders. Hope it helps.



  4. Liza:

    My school uses the workshop model for reading and writing so my incoming class is very well-versed in the writing process as steeped in Workshop.



  5. I’ve never done anything like this . . . so bear that in mind. I see room for both activities in a class and, in fact, for one to lead into the other. Teaching 4th graders, I could seeing doing a heart map at the beginning of the year and discussing how those important elements can be triggers for writing throughout the year. At the end of the year, you could have the students look over their writing, come up with a list of their common stubject matter. In discussing how this works and talking about writing terratories, you could go back to the heart maps and see how many students ended up writing alot about the things that they saw as important.

    I thought of this as I thought about doing a writing territories project early in the school year. If students haven’t written this intensely before, they may not have a clear idea WHAT their writing territory is because they’ve only written whatever they were told to write.

    Just a thought.


  6. It is helpful.

    I rarely do art for “art sake,” but this kind of activity, when pumped up on the creative end (after the substance is put on the paper) has the power to be extremely powerful.


  7. Stacy, I know you are looking for cute and art related, so I hesitate…

    This is not either. What I did in my classroom was a six box. I posted a bunch of topic development ideas on my site. The kids picked the four-six that they held the dearest to them and we narrowed and narrowed and narrowed. I helped by taking pictures if the topics were school related and encouraged them to take pictures if the topics were home related. We googled topics too for picture support. My students who were ELL really needed picture support and my students with IEPC’s required this support too.

    Hope this is a bit helpful.


  8. Oh I hope you get some ideas for this one! I did heart maps this last spring in the class I long termed in, but I think I like the territories idea better.


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