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Revisiting the Heart Map

We’ve written a lot about heart maps, which were originated by Georgia Heard, over the past ten years here on Two Writing Teachers. However, last month, about a week-and-a-half before Isabelle, my daughter, started first grade, she confessed that she didn’t know what she was going to write about this year. I thought about a variety of strategies I could teach her for coming up with things to write about, I deferred to one of the things I have done with elementary school kids and the adults I teach in graduate school. I helped her create a heart map.

IMG_8143The heart map took Isabelle two days to create. Day one was spent brainstorming and filling in the names of the people/places/things that are important to her. Since Isabelle was bringing the heart map to school, I didn’t want her to use invented spelling. I thought it would be helpful for her to have the correct spelling of the important items in her heart. As a result, day two was spent with Isabelle drawing pictures inside of any bubble in her heart map that she couldn’t read independently. The pictures would help her read the unfamiliar words when she was away from home and couldn’t get her teacher’s attention.

Despite creating the heart map, I could tell Isabelle needed some help figuring out how to use the heart map. Therefore, she picked a special person — her baby brother,  Ari — and a special place — Hersheypark — off of her heart map to write about. I supported her through the writing process (i.e., oral rehearsal, sketching, and stretching out words as she wrote) and she completed this short book, about the first time she and Ari rode the Convoy at Hersheypark together, two days before school started:

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Page 1 of 3. Click on the image to enlarge.
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Page 2 of 3. Click on the image to enlarge.
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Page 3 of 3. Click on the image to enlarge.

Some of you may remember my post earlier this year about my daughter’s academic challenges. Even after the heart map was delivered to school and the story was put away in her home writing folder, I worried I had pushed too much. However, the heart map empowered Isabelle. You see, Isabelle’s teacher informed me that Isabelle asked her teacher for her heart map to help her think of an idea when she had to come up with a topic for the on-demand assessment her teacher gave them on the first day of school. I am confident Isabelle will return to her heart map many times during the school year ahead.

Do you use heart maps in your classroom? If so, have you done them with your kids yet this year? How have they helped? If you don’t use them, what questions do you have about them?

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

21 thoughts on “Revisiting the Heart Map Leave a comment

  1. Stephanie, I hear your concern about heart maps maybe being too “feminine” but in my experience boys actually find it easier to express what’s personal if they begin with a heart map. It depends on how you introduce heart maps as well. Start with your own heart map and make sure the entries are particular and evocative. If you have my book HEART MAPS read Nancie Atwell’s essay in it “What Matters” about boys and heart maps. She writes, “Heart maps works for all kids, but their impact on boys in remarkable.”
    Thank you for being brave and encouraging dialogue!

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    • Stephanie, I hear your concern about heart maps maybe being too “feminine” but in my experience boys actually find it easier to express what’s personal if they begin with a heart map. It depends on how you introduce heart maps as well. Start with your own heart map and make sure the entries are particular and evocative. If you have my book HEART MAPS read Nancie Atwell’s essay in it “What Matters” about boys and heart maps. She writes, “Heart maps works for all kids, but their impact on boys in remarkable.”
      Thank you for being brave and encouraging dialogue!

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  2. Something I’ve wondered about / worried about with heart maps is if they are (gulp – please don’t take offense!) too traditionally feminine. After reading Misreading Masculinity, and having a boy of my own, I’ve sometimes thought that requiring my sixth graders to share what’s in their heart is a tough ask, especially early in the school year. In the past few years I’ve played with layering the heart, so that kids can write their private thoughts under their heart and using different shapes (soccer balls are a big favorite). I may very well be being overly-sensitive to issues of gender identity and expectations, but my sixth graders are pretty nuanced people and I try to honor their complexity. “Heart” maps are a great writing starting point, but I think we need to be flexible with them.

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  3. I am supporting a 1st year 7th grade ELA teacher and he is also mplementing writing workshop! First lesson–I modeled using a heart map to gather ideas. We used the one with our senses. The best comment came when we were discussing smells. One boy told me to stay out of the hallway by the boys’ locker rooms, using lots of adjectives to describe it. I told him he had a great personal story right there!

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  4. Stacey, thanks for the reminder and inspiration to revisit the heart map. I gave my students the on demand assessment the other day and I didn’t think it went so well. Lesson learned – let them spend time creating a heart map first.

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  5. The heart speaks in any language. I would like to use this approach and some of the templates with my English Language learners to encourage them to write and to write more descriptively. They often know a lot more than they can express orally so drawing their ideas would add to their expressive output.

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    • Hi Georgia, I discovered your book, Awakening the Heart, many years ago when you did a professional development for my district (Pinellas County Schools). I have to say that it was one of the most inspiring PD’s that I’ve ever attended. I still use many of techniques, including having my students read and perform the poem, “Things.” I am now teaching in a different district but just last year I shared Awakening the Heart and your new heart map book during a district “Ed Camp” session on poetry. The teachers loved it and were very excited to try them out. This year, I will be teaching second grade and plan to introduce heart maps during our second week of school. I personally find them to be one of the most empowering and motivating ways to help students write about what matters to them. I’ve also written about heart maps on my blog:

      https://literacywithlisa.com/2015/11/25/write-your-heart-out-at-home-or-at-school/

      Thank you for inspiring me (and my students!).

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    • Thank you Lisa! I remember the workshop in Pinellas County and meeting so many amazing teachers. I just reread your blog post and love the photo of the writing centers including a Write Your Heart Out Center. Good luck with second grade heart mapping!

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  6. I LOVE that Isabelle’s heart map is brimming with what she loves and that you helped her create a meaningful and beautiful heart map that she then returned to later for writing ideas. As you so beautifully described in your post, Heart Maps can be anchors, and centering tools, to remind kids and teachers what matters. Thank you for your questions at the end of your post — I was just going to post similar questions on my Facebook Heart Maps Group. I’ll keep checking back to read updates.

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  7. We created heart maps this year for the first time in my first grade class. After they completed them, my students shared their maps with the class so we could learn more about each other. We proudly displayed them on a bulletin board for open house. I’m going to put them in their writing folders so they can access them throughout the year. Love this project and plan to use it every year.

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  8. I love how you set Isabelle up for success with her heart map. She must’ve been so proud to show it to her new teacher. I plan to use heart maps with our 6th grade enrichment group so they can discover their passions and be ready to plan a year long project.

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  9. My third grade colleagues and I use heart maps every year. Heart maps really help the children visualize and understand that they can write more than one story about their special person. Third graders tend to think that since they’ve already written a story about their little brother, they have “used up” that person as a topic.

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    • Thank you for mentioning the Footprint/Handprint idea. I have used Heart Maps with my kindergartners with success but I am happy to find additional ideas.

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  10. I will use heart maps this year, but also show students other ways that I learned from this blog… the footprint (places you have gone), the handprint (for things you touched). My fourth graders like to be able to chose how they collect their ideas … some just use lists .

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  11. Excellent work, Isabelle (and Mama!). I love how the heart map empowered Isabelle to know she could find her own writing ideas.

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