Heart Mapping: A Prewriting Activity for Valentine’s Day and Beyond


My trip to Southern Germany with my husband, the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls baking in the oven at my Grandma’s house, taking my dog to the beach in San Diego, my two little boys, reading good books – I love writing about the people, places, things, and memories closest to my heart. With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a great time to give students the opportunity to reflect on what they love while sharpening their writing skills.

My students at the elementary and middle school levels often struggled with writing – especially with the first step of just getting started. Then several years ago a grad school professor introduced me to Heart Mapping – a prewriting strategy based on Georgia Heard’s book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I have been implementing and sharing this brilliant, yet simple strategy with students and teachers ever since.

Heart Mapping involves examining our hearts and identifying fond memories, defining moments, people we love, our favorite places, ways we spend our free time, and any other topics most important to us. This document includes step-by-step instructions on how to implement Georgia Heard’s Heart Mapping strategy.

Over the years, I’ve taken some liberties with Heart Mapping based on the needs of my own students and have included my own step-by-step instructions based on Heard’s method.

  1. Although I introduced Heart Mapping to my students at the beginning of every school year, it was an ongoing activity throughout the year. By thinking aloud, I mapped my own heart by identifying people, places, and things close to my heart, as well as defining moments in my life and how I spent my free time. Using specific words/details, I placed the topics on a larger version of this heart template on chart paper. For example, I included: playing fetch with my dog, celebrating my grandma’s 100th birthday, the smell of pizza baking in the wood-burning oven at my favorite restaurant, my parents’ divorce, along with other topics that my students might be able to relate with.
  2. I encouraged students to ponder several questions to get them started with mapping their own hearts:
    1. Who are the people most important to you? Why?
    2. How do you spend your free time?
    3. What memories make you smile? What memories make you feel sad?
    4. What are some defining moments of your life? (moving to a new home, parents’ divorce, the loss of a loved one…)
    5. What experiences have you had that you will never forget?
    6. Where do you enjoy hanging out?
  3. I gave students 10-15 minutes to reflect on and identify topics most important to them for their own heart templates (or students could simply draw a big heart on a sheet of notebook paper to use). Common student topics included: family members, pets, their bedrooms, family vacations, friends, teachers, favorite foods, hobbies, moving to a new home, along with other more specific topics and memories.
  4. Finally, I gave students the opportunity to share their hearts with the rest of the group (on a voluntary basis). Sharing helped spark more memories and topics to be included on their individual hearts.
  5. The hearts were stored in the students’ writing folders to reference whenever they needed meaningful topics to write about. (Gone were the days of hearing, “I don’t have anything to write about!”) As students made new memories throughout the school year – or uncovered additional old memories – they added them to their heart templates. (Sometimes students filled their templates and needed additional copies.)

Writing about topics close to our hearts as well as our defining moments can be very enjoyable and therapeutic. This Valentine’s Day consider introducing Heart Mapping in your classroom – you and your students will be equipped with meaningful topics to write about for the rest of the school year. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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