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Activities to Build Ownership in Students' Writer's Notebooks
Keeping Writer's Notebooks this year? Here's a great way to decorate them!

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For Writer's Notebooks:

Heart Maps &
Writing Topics

This write-up was sent to us from a teacher-user of WritingFix as a complement to our Mentor Text of the Year Program. Heart Maps can certainly be posted on bulletin boards, but they also make fantastic covers to students' writer's notebooks.

There are many marvelous "mentor texts" that can be used when teaching a unit on narrative or memoir. The review of the book, How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher, and the activity on this page were written by a teacher who uses WritingFix.

Are you a fan of WritingFix? Use this link to purchase How to Write Your Life Story from and WritingFix will receive a small donation to help us continue posting free-to-use resources.

This is a writer's notebook-friendly lesson! This write-up has been recently revised so that this lesson can complement a student's keeping of a notebook or journal.

You can visit WritingFix's Writer's Notebook Resources Homepage to access more lessons and prompts revised to inspire effective modeling of writer's notebooks for our student writers.

Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You is a remarkable text to share advice from, especially if you are new to requiring writer's notebooks from your writers.

A Book Review & an Activity Suggestion:

Dear WritingFix,

You have chosen an wonderful book to use as your "Mentor Text of the Year" this school year. I have been using Ralph's How to Write Your Life Story for about four years now, and my students become such better writers every time we share a chapter out loud. The trick of the book, I've discovered, is that you need to assign a personal prompt and have your kids write to it on the day before sharing a chapter. That way, you can use Ralph's advice exclusively during the revision step of the writing process. I personally find that when you are doing revision, that's when your students learn to own authentic skills (like the one's discussed in Ralph's book) best, and they actually remember the skills, which isn't the case when I teach the skills before my students write rough drafts.

If you click here, you can find some good prompts to use with your students the day before you share advice from any of Ralph's How to Write Your Life Story chapters.

Heart-Map Activity: A heart map is a visual representation of a student's heart, displaying topics that "live" there; these topics are ones the student would show passion about and interest towards if the student was writing about them.

The very first thing I do in my writer's workshop is have students create personal "Heart Maps," which is the wonderful and cool activity from chapter 1 of Ralph's book. I kind of combine Ralph's Heart Map idea with an idea from Barry Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports--The Roman Centurion's Brain. While Ralph's Heart Maps write-up in chapter one makes the final products seem like big collages of things the students find personally important, Barry's activity suggests the element of partitioning the brain into parts that equal one-hundred percent; with Barry's activity, you assign bigger pieces to things that are more important. So...I ask my students to partition their hearts when they create rough drafts for their heart maps, which means they have to assign bigger parts of their hearts to the things that are personally more important to them.

The final drafts of our heart maps go on the inside cover of our writing journals. All year long, when a students run out of ideas for their next story, they learn to re-visit their heart maps to find an appropriate topic. The heart map has become the single best idea I've ever seen for keeping students from saying, "I don't know what to write about."

By the way, I didn't know about Ralph's memoir, Marshfield Dreams, until I saw you were featuring it alongside How To Write Your Life Story. I ordered it, devoured it in less than two hours once it arrived, and now treasure it! Thanks for making me aware of this book. The final chapter made me sob; I am not looking forward to having to read that aloud to my studets because I know I'll cry in front of them. All this year, when I read from Marshfield Dreams, I plan to keep showing my students example of his "Heart Map" so they can see how this published author found stories in his visual representation.

Thanks for keeping a great website!

--Erin Decker, New Jersey teacher & WritingFix user


Teacher & Student Samples:
These heart maps were sent to WritingFix in September of 2009

Click on any heart map to see it in larger form

Mr. Cieszko's
teacher sample

Ivette: 5th grader

Jose: 4th grader

Mrs. Leimbach's
teacher sample

Nate: 5th grader

Channel: 5th grader

Rachel: 1st grader

Alden: 3rd grader

Zach: 4th grader

Laney: 6th grader

Mitch: 6th grader

Meg: 6th grader

Miguel: 8th grader

Erica: 8th grader

Savanah: 8th grader

WritingFix Safely Publishes Students from Around the World! In 2008, we first began accepting students samples from teachers anywhere who use WritingFix lessons and prompts. Hundreds of new published students now go up at our site annually! We're currently seeking student samples for all non-represented grade levels for this writer's notebook prompt!  Help us obtain some from your students, and we'll help make a few of your writer's from class a bit more "famous" to the thousands of teachers and students who use WritingFix every year.

Visit this lesson's posting page in order to attach photos of heart maps and post them..

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