Heart Maps Help Kids Craft Authentic Writing

Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing
By Georgia Heard
(Heinemann, 2016 – Learn more)

Linda-Biondi-120Reviewed by Linda Biondi

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. William Wordsworth

On the FIRST page of my FIRST Writers Notebook (one of many), I drew my FIRST heart map. It told my life story.

Each year I would begin with a new, updated and revised heart map to share with my students. The terrain has changed through the years, but the one constant has been my love for my family, friends, and profession. Georgia Heard has inspired and motivated many teachers and students. To me what began as a place to jot down and sketch what was close to my heart became a reflective oasis in the busy world of teaching.

heart-maps-biondiI’ve loved teaching “Map of My Heart” which comes from the 1999 book Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard. A heart map is a visual reminder of what the writer loves and cares about. It goes beyond making a list of people, places and things to a deeper place within each person so you can write more authentically about what you value and love.

As I read Heard’s six reasons for heart mapping in her new book, Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing, I nodded in agreement and remembered how this special tool has touched my students and me.

  1. Authentic writing comes from the heart.
  2. Heart mapping opens the door to literacy for all writers including reluctant, toggling and blocked writers.
  3. Heart maps can function as a radical touchstone for writers.
  4. Heart mapping taps into the power of visual learning.
  5. Heart mapping gives writers the freedom to explore and allows an idea or image room to grow.
  6. Heart mapping connects us to our feelings and helps us empathize with others.

I am moved by each of these reasons, remembering a student who would “visit” his heart map, gently touch the section he drew about his grandfather, and smile. Or the student who proudly brought his writers notebook home, shared his heart map with his family, and insisted that every member of the family make a heart map. Or the student who finally “broke through” that writing barrier, writing poems at first, then stories, essays and finally a thank-you letter to me for introducing him to “heart maps.”

However, I never dreamed about using heart maps for more than memoirs, realistic fiction ideas, or places to jump-start my writing.

Packing for the journey

Just like you need to pack for a trip, in Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing Heard helps you pack for your heart map journey.

She has generously provided 20 heart map templates to get started on this journey, including ideas like a Beloved Character Heart Map, Senses Heart Map, Nonfiction Heart Map, What I Wonder about Heart Map, Readers Heart Map, and Gratitude Heart Map.

As you can intuit, the maps are adaptable for many subject areas. Think about it: a nonfiction heart map. I wish I had known about this when I started my research unit in Readers and Writers Workshop!


What I love about heart mapping is that it is an evolving process. You can add to it, and work on it for a short period of time or a longer period. It has a built-in reflective piece to it. When you heart map, you can’t help but want to reflect. You brainstorm with yourself, adding ideas as you begin to spread out.

Where the maps begin

Each heart map section begins with the same six points:

  • Introduction to the type of heart map
  • “Try This” section with instructions and tips
  • Heart map template with ideas and questions
  • Writing ideas for multiple genres
  • Student examples
  • Mentor texts to inspire writing

There is a companion online resource with reproducible versions of each template so students can draw them or use a color copy. There are suggestions on the right side to inspire them as they map their heart.

Each heart has a story to tell

This book is written from the heart, cover to cover. It tells stories of children of all ages and backgrounds. It tells of struggles, passions, joys, and disappointments. Each heart belongs to a unique person who has a story to tell. It is a museum of memories, beauty, and soul searching. It is a book that will remain in your mind after you read the final pages and will ask you to come back and look at it again.

You will be wondering about Sofia (see image below) and her “BE the Change That You Wish to See in the World Heart Map.” You will wonder whether she will stop child abuse and help starving children, and you will wonder why she chose those goals. You will cry when you see Mallory’s heart map and wonder whether she was directly impacted by someone close to her being killed.


The book closes with three guest writers who write about their heart-mapping experiences: Pam Allyn, Nancie Atwell, and Penny Kittle. I sobbed as I read and reflected on the children in third world countries and how they go against all odds to receive an education. I sobbed as I read stories from Pam Allyn about using heart maps with the organization, LitWorld.

I read of girls in Pakistan who must hide the fact they are meeting to learn to read and write; children in Nepal who used heart maps to help them work through their trauma after the devastating earthquake; a heart map written in Urdu and English from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

The idea of heart mapping may seem simplistic, but you will learn that it is not. Thank you, Georgia Heard, for your generosity, experience, and passion for teaching our children and for continuing to make an impact on the world…through Heart Maps.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, NJ and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel and with ECET2 Celebrate Teaching.


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1 Response

  1. Mary Langer Thompson says:

    Great review, Linda, and I love your Wordsworth quote to begin. I also learned about Heart Maps in The Author’s Apprentice by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg (reviewed here on Middleweb) and can’t wait to get this latest Heard book.

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