heart maps · Seen, Valued, Heard: Writing to Establish Community Blog Series · writing workshop

Seen, Valued, Heard: Creating Heart Maps to Build Identity

Here is what Heart Mapping once looked like in my 4th-grade class. A class set of 35 heart templates printed on white printing paper would be handed out by an eager paper-passer while the rest of the class laid out their newly purchased tools of choice to write and color with on their desks. Once they received their template, students began to sketch and write inside their hearts moments of joy over the summer, memories they cherished with people that mattered, and or objects that held meaning. Later on, we would mine the details of what we drew and wrote as potential seed ideas for our narrative unit of study. This was a part of my beginning of the year ritual on building relationships in a pre-COVID-19 era. I had assumed that surely every student had a joyous summer, important memories to share, and even owned objects. Looking back on this practice, I recognize this activity was built on assumption. Assuming kids had a joyful summer, had people in their lives they cherished, and memorable experiences. It was not intentional in building a classroom community based on building students’ unique identities.

COVID-19 has unmasked inequities that lay dormant in our schools. For starters, several students did not have access to a device to meet with teachers. While most districts loaned students one, there came connectivity issues that arose. During this time, we recognized that school is more than an institution to share information. 

School is also a place where I now recognize Heart Maps should be used to intentionally create a community of care. This community begins with trust in us as teachers. It is a place where kids feel their voices are important, their stories are heard, and that we see them. .   

We can be more intentional by providing students specific lenses to use when creating heart maps. Georgia Heard, author of Heart Maps; Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing describes, “Heart mapping as a metaphor for what all writers know: to write into what matters to us, to keep our feelings alive, to be vulnerable, to tell the truth, to question, and to speak what many people only keep inside.” It is another way that we can access a window into our students’ identities. Author, Sara Ahmed shares in-depth about identity webs in her book Being the Change, and Melanie Meehan writes more on this in her blog post.  Heard describes 20 ways that heart maps can be used to inspire and engage writers in her book. Out of the 20, three stood out to me as a way to let our kids be seen, valued, and heard.  These three ways of using heart maps can be accomplished in a traditional school model, a hybrid model of instruction, or a 100% Distance Learning.  


  1. Family Quilt Heart Map

My family has not kept a quilt, but in families that do, quilts connect an individual to extended family members. You can have students map people, stories, memories, rituals, and traditions on a family quilt heart map. Begin by either providing a heart template or having students draw hearts. When creating this map, we can consider some guiding questions Heard provides in her book.  

  • What family stories or memories can you include?
  • Write down any family songs, traditions, rituals, or foods that make your family unique.
  • Write any family stories that your family tells and retells to each other.
  • You can also include details of a place such as a family home or town, city, or country where your family comes from and how that has shaped your family memories and stories. 

2.  My Name Heart Map

Our names are a large part of who we are. Some of our names come from family members and some as Heard explains are, “memorials to people we don’t want to forget.” In Judaism, a way to honor a family member that has passed is by giving a baby either the name of the lost family member or a name with the first initial of the family member’s name. 

Students can start by writing their names in a small heart in the center. Next, Heard shares, “Students can explore the stories behind their names as a way to discover how their name has shaped their identity and made them who they are.”

Questions to invite students while creating heart maps can be:

  • Whom were you named after and why?
  • The name teachers use
  • The name friends use
  • If you’ve ever been teased about or complimented on your name.
  • How you feel about your name.

3. Be the Change you wish to see in the World Heart Map.

This strategy works off the knowledge of what Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Young children are aware of changes that need to be made and this an outlet for them to express themselves. By allowing kids to express changes that they feel need to be made, it opens us a forum for discussion. It is a chance to listen to their needs while being intentional about making sure kids feel heard. 

Heard provides guiding questions we can use when creating this heart map. Ask students, “What do you notice in the world that you would like to change?” “Are there examples of injustices, inequality, or prejudice in my school, neighborhood, town, or city?”

Virtual Heart Mapping

Our school year opens next week. Instead of walking up to the classroom to greet teachers, they will log in. Heart Maps can be created virtually by using an asynchronous or synchronous approach.

In this video,  you can see how I used the Be the Change You Want to see in the World Heart Map strategy with a group of incoming 5th graders. The platform I used to connect live is through Zoom. Next, I shared a Google Jamboard link inside a Google Classroom. Note, I have soon discovered you can easily share a link in the chat box as well. I taught the mini-lesson in about 7 minutes and students had about 10 minutes or so to find pictures that represent changes they want to see in the world. 

You’ll notice, Sophia wants to see a change in how animals are treated. Paloma wants to see a change in equal pay for women, Sydney wants the truth in the Coronavirus numbers, and Jacob wants to see an end to polluting our oceans. This time together gave me a glimpse into what my students care about, things that matter to them. Later, we can use the images inside their heart maps as a launching point to a persuasive essay. 

Closing Thoughts

When I think about who I am now compared to who I was pre-COVID, I am at my core myself. However, my perspective on building a community has shifted. I used to think a heart map was a getting to know you activity at the beginning of the year. I now understand it can and should be intentionally used to build a community of learners. A community where student identities are appreciated heard responsively, seen beautifully, and valued greatly. 


Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing by Georgia Heard. –

7 thoughts on “Seen, Valued, Heard: Creating Heart Maps to Build Identity

  1. I love how you helped me think of heart mapping through the COVID lens and the ways in which these last months have impacted, influenced, and maybe even inspired us. And thank you for sharing how they can be taught and created virtually or in person. This series is really great.


  2. I just love heart maps, Therapi! These are the few things that do not grow old for me. Thank you for these three fresh ideas on giving them new life and purpose. Watching your students create virtual heart maps was kind of awesome. The video was a wonderful addition!


  3. I love that you included the video of how you did this teaching with students remotely. I think Jamboard has so many possibilities. I’ve been using it for Math but I think the heart map works perfectly with Jamboard. The video was very helpful and I appreciate you including it.


  4. I LOVE heartbreak mapping… We used them at the end of last quarter for seventh graders to start doing something they WANT to do during our remote learning. I’ll add your post to the Geniushour LiveBinder: https://tinyurl.com/GHLiveBinder Just use the search box for “heart,” and you’ll find four other posts to help readers, as well. 🙂 Woot!


  5. Fabulous, practical ideas to build community using heart maps! I especially enjoyed the video of digital heart map creation in action. “Be the Change” Heart maps are such a powerful, personal way to get to know kids. The invitations heart maps create for future writing are endless! As we build community, kids can know each other in such unique ways using these heart maps. Thanks!


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