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.
The 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:
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?
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).