Heart Maps

Thirty years ago I met a poet who changed my life.  That poet, Georgia Heard, is still changing lives.  Currently writing a book about heart maps, a technique developed to help young poets find poetry in their lives, Georgia asked if I’d be willing to try out heart maps with the Seed third and fourth graders.  I said yes and the kids did, too.  They embraced the project with great enthusiasm and this week we finished up.

Georgia sent her book draft that included around a dozen different heart maps with themes such as Where I Find Poetry, Be the Change You Want to See in the World, The First Time I Ever…, and Gratitude.  We picked one theme to work on together, drawing heart maps to familiarize ourselves with the process, then students were each assigned to one other theme.  With two heart maps to choose from, the children began writing, using their maps as a topic source.  I also drew a heart map and shared one of my poems, demonstrating how it came from my heart map.  They made list poems, then developed them into full poems.  Each child met with me for a publication conference and we ended up with a fine collection of poetry in addition to the collection of colorful heart maps.  Here are just a few excerpts from some of their poems:

“Listen to the croaks of my living frogs,
in the swamps going hippety-hop,
singing their earth songs and
I wanted to tell you mine:
I am the EARTH.

How can you help me?”


“a poem is just like a geode
rock on outside, crystal on inside
the beginning is pretty dull
the end is the crystal
because writing is beautiful
so it is the geode all together”


“At night my family is quiet
At night the moon
flies slowly across the black sky
At night I sleep
warm and snug in my bed
At night I awake
knowing morning will come to greet me”

When the poems were finished, I asked the students to reflect on their heart maps, describing how they used them to find ideas.  I asked them to describe their process of going from the heart map to finished poem, as well as add any  general comments.  About heart maps, one children wrote:  “It just surprised me.  I was gifted a wonderful thing.”  Another child said, “Working with heart maps was really cool.  Now it is part of my writing tool box.”  Yet another student commented, “I put adjectives and then thought of things that described the adjectives in San Francisco.  I then added and deleted words until it came out right.”

On the first map we did together, using the theme Be the Change You Want to See in the World, the kids wrote and drew concerns about the world.  One boy included orphans as a concern.  He initially wrote a poem about orphans, yet when he came for his conference with me, his poem, “Little Pockets of Fun,” was about planting sunflowers.  As we reviewed his reflections, I discovered the orphan poem and asked what made him decide to change topics.  He looked me in the eye with great sincerity, and said, “I thought it would be too sad for other people.”

This is the destination at which we arrived with our heart maps.  Yes, good writing was an outcome and the kids now have one more powerful tool to help them grow as writers.  The most important result, however, was the open-heartedness toward each other and the world that came forth.  Georgia asked us to pose for a picture with our heart maps to send to a group of students in Nepal who had also made heart maps.  Each Seed in this project will tape the photo of the Nepalese students in his or her writer’s notebook.  It is my hope that connections like these will continue to change lives, just as Georgia’s heart maps have changed ours.

(link to the entire collection: Heart Map poems)

2 thoughts on “Heart Maps

  1. This has been such an amazing process for the kids. It has been exciting to watch them open themselves up and express what is in their hearts.

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