Thursday, July 12, 2012

Less Fix-a-Thons, More Heart Maps!

I've been thinking about the upcoming school year and my new (and hopefully better) approach to teaching writing. This past year, I had what I thought was a flawless system. We'd spend a week on a new grammar concept, then a week on a new writing prompt where we'd go through the whole writing process and put our new skills into practice. Then the next week, it'd be back to grammar lessons and activities. It was a structured way of planning, and the kids were definitely learning the "objectives" they needed to learn, but how much of their time in WRITING class was spent WRITING compositions? *cringe* Not nearly enough! Luckily, the amazing teachers on my team were often finding ways to incorporate writing into their classes (reader's response, science notebooking, etc.) BUT STILL! There's nothing as effective as writer's workshop, and I need to do a lot more of it.

So, my goal this year is to give my writing classes a new writing prompt/new writing trait focus every Monday, spend every day going through the writing process, and still find time to weave in the spelling and grammar. How? A friend of mine, who is a very successful fourth grade writing teacher in our district, told me she only spends 10 minutes a day on grammar through old-school D.O.L. exercises, but she tailors her D.O.L. warm-ups to current objectives only and gives them a short quiz on Fridays to assess their learning. I thought this was brilliant! A little grammar homework never hurt anyone, either. With all these thoughts in mind, here's my plan so far...

A Week in Mrs. McMurrough's Class (better have those pencils sharpened!):
Monday : D.O.L., new spelling words, new prompt, plan compositions
Tuesday:  D.O.L., write first drafts
Wednesday: D.O.L., peer-revise, writing conferences
Thursday: D.O.L., peer-edit, writing conferences
Friday: D.O.L. "quiz," spelling test, write/publish final drafts

Am I insane, or does that schedule sound feasible for 70 minute class periods? Of course, I'll also be modeling and sharing bits and pieces from mentor texts along the way. It will interesting without a doubt, but I really do think it will help the kids become better writers in the long run. In a nutshell, my revamped writing class will be less of a "grammar fix-a-thon" and more of a comprehensive "writer's workshop." Yay? I hope so.

The first writing trait I plan to focus on with my brand new group of kiddos will be IDEAS. You can have gorgeous handwriting, a "robust" vocabulary, and a consistent command of spelling and grammar, but what good is any story without original ideas? The best ideas also come from the heart, right? I first learned about "Heart Maps" when I came across this Pinterest pin, originally pinned by Jennifer Ferraro Matteodo:

In January, I made my own version of a Heart Map template (below), and my students loved creating and referring to it! I enjoyed it, too. There was one class period where I almost got teary-eyed sharing my own Heart Map with them... putting so many meaningful people, memories, and personal values inside one paper heart turned out to be more sentimental than I was expecting. Oh yeah, I'm also a huge sap. Then, I allowed plenty of class time for them to illustrate their own Heart Map and paste it inside the front cover of their draftbook (writing notebook). The "key" gave them some nudges on what to include and helped them incorporate a variety of meaningful parts of life. It was something special and helpful that they referred to throughout the year anytime they experienced "writer's block." I think having your own Heart Map is especially handy when thinking of ideas for personal narratives.

Here's my spin on the all-important Heart Map:

It can be downloaded for free here: My TpT Store!

Although plenty of changes are in store for next year, scrapping the Heart Map isn't one of them. It's definitely a keeper!

- Sarah


  1. Sarah! I absolutely love your blog! I think your schedule and plans for teaching writing next year are great and your students will make such gains from going to the writing process every single week! you're such a great teacher and I'm so proud to know you! I am definitely going to steal the idea of the heart map. I'm going back to the classroom next year and will read your blog to get ideas for teaching writing in my second grade classroom.

    Looking forward to reading more,
    Falon :-)

  2. First, I LOVE your blog colors. Gray and Yellow make me happy!
    Second, I'm glad I found your blog and wanted to give you The Versatile Blogger award. Stop by my blog to pick it up!

    Rock and Teach

    1. Hi Sarah,

      I love your Heart Map. I am going to use it with my 4th graders. I am nominating you for an award; come get your award from my blog.

      Fabulous Finch Facts

  3. I love this idea, I have to pick it up at your tpt store.I’m your newest follower. Please check out my blog if you get a chance “Calling Plays in 2nd Grade”.
    Thanks, Shanell

    P.S I'm awarding you the Liebster Award. Pleas stop by my page and pick it up and the rules.

  4. Your writing plan sounds like it will be a success - looking forward to reading future updates on how it's going. Happy to have found another 4th grade teacher blog & I'm your newest follower! Come visit my blog & enter my first giveaway while you're there - wishing you the best WINNING luck!

  5. Your writing plan sounds great. I think that is close to how one of my friends does her writing class. We are both Texas teachers too. I adore your blog and know I will be getting lots of ideas from you. Where did you get the cute clip art with the kids and the pencils? I am working on a status of the class chart and those would sure be cute. =)

    I found your blog earlier this week and became a follower. I would love for you to hop over to my blog when you get the chance and read the 2 inspirational poems I shared. =)

    Heather's Heart