This section will outline the various kinds of maps that can be applied to the Self, either one’s own or to a literary character. This is intended as a selection and a starting point. They can be mixed and matched at the teacher's discretion as well as offer ideas to create your own, newly invented kinds of maps, or even hybrid maps.
Any aspect of our lives can be mapped, from what is in our minds, to our hearts, our bodies, our past and future. By slight changes to content and form, a variety of personal geographies can be mapped. As Jill Berry states in her book Personal Geographies, “You can make a map of nearly any journey, place, day or experience… maps can be intimate and personal, or grand and inclusive. They can be a ritual way to journal your day, or a permanent and elaborate illustration of your life’s journey” (Berry 7)
Included in the appendix are sample handouts and examples for some of the included map types.
A map of what is in your heart (what is most important to you). By giving students an initial frame canvas of a blank heart (or letting them draw their own) and simple instructions, the heart map is a great place to start the personal cartography project, because it allows students to jump right in, while also allowing for great depth in form and content (it is in effect a ‘self-differentiating’ assignment).
Some questions from the book Heart Maps to get students started:
- What memories and feelings have you stored in your heart?
- What people have been important to you?
- What are some experiences or central events you will never forget?
- What happy or sad memories do you have?
- What makes your heart sing?
- What is most important to you right now?
- What do you want to tell others about yourself?
- What is unique about you?
- Other things you might include:
- Your future
- Your life history
- Your wishes and talents
- An idea you’ve had
- What you are grateful for
In my own experience using this tool with 7th and 8th graders, many students will alter and deepen the given form of the heart map on their own, by changing the form itself and/or modifying the content. For instance, one student opted to use a more anatomically correct outline of a human heart, along with sections of its geography that showed not only the joyful values, but also the wounds and trauma of lived experiences, and by doing so formed a more coherent view of oneself, where the chaos of past events are given meaning and purpose and lessons learned.
I often give students this map assignment in the very beginning of the school year for three reasons: it provides a creative and fun initial activity for students, it gives each of them a way to introduce themselves to me (and the class) at a deeper level, it serves as a repository for writing and poetry prompts, and by looking at this initial map later in the year it offers valuable material for personal reflection.
In her book on heart maps Georgia Heard lists many useful variations on the heart map, each with their own slightly different thematic and content focus, but all using the same heart canvas. This makes the use of the strategy endlessly usable with variation according to the lesson or emphasis. Note that the form itself, the blank heart canvas, can be anything as well; it could be the form of a “real map,” or a tree, or a house, etc. They can all also be part of a year-long Atlas of Experience performance task, each showing a different aspect of the self, and growth. Some of her variations are listed here for reference and ideas
- A Reader’s Heart Map. “Students can use a heart map template to map themselves as readers: their reading lives, reading memories, and favorite books and authors.” (Heard 34). Some ideas to include in a reader’s map:
- Favorite authors
- Favorite books or poems and why you like them
- Memorable lines or phrases or words from books you’ve read.
- Favorite place to read
- Memories of reading
- Books or characters that have influenced you
- Favorite type or genre of book.
- Family Quilt. “Writers can map the people, stories, memories, rituals, and traditions on their own family quilty heart map.” (Heard 50).
- What family stories or memories can you include?
- Write down any family songs, traditions, rituals, or foods that make your family unique.
- Write any family stories that your family tells and retells to each other.
- Include any details of place such as family home or town, city, or country where your family comes from and how that has shaped your family memories and stories.
- My Name Map. “After writing their name in the small heart in the center, writers can explore the stories behind their names to discover how their name has shaped their identity and made them who they are.” (Heard 54).
- What is the story behind your name? (If you don’t know, ask someone who might).
- Whom you were named after, and why
- How you feel about your name
- What your name means to you
- Your nickname and where it came from
- The name teachers use
- The name friends use
- Questions you have about your name
- Gratitude Map. “We all have things, people, and experiences that we’re thankful for. When we focus on them, worry, sadness, and anxiety can be eased.” (Heard 62)
- What people are you grateful for and why?
- What makes you happy?
- What brings you peace of mind and comfort?
- Whom or what do you love?
- What things inspire you?
- What places do you love?
- What are some things you observe and are interested in in the world?
Inspired by Art2be, a group of visual artists who use body mapping as a “creative and therapeutic tool for people often left in the periphery of society for economic, social, or health reasons” (Berry 27), mapping one’s physical self is intimately linked to one’s sense of identity and self-worth.
As personal cartographer Jill Berry states, “no matter how long you have lived, your body has stories to tell. Scars, illnesses, childbirth...the things you’ve been up to all this time weave a map of stories from head to toe. A part of that terrain also includes what didn’t happen: the vacancies, empty spaces and silhouettes of unrequited relationships or events” (27).
“In this exercise, you will make a two layered map of your body. The first layer is symbolic (graphics, drawings, and symbols), and the second layer is prosaic (words or journaling). The symbols used here are abstracted to represent your experiences. Working this way frees you to say what you like, and because you invent the symbols, no one else need know what they stand for.” (Berry 28).
This is essentially a map with two physically separate yet connected layers. Two copies of a simple body frame outline can be handed to students, and much like the heart map they have very simple and concrete ways to begin (such as mapping physical scars), with the built in potential for deep symbolic meaning and representation (the emotional and psychological links between the physical body and mental well-being).
For this map, the frame itself should be chosen and drawn by the students beforehand. Where does one live and grow up? This could begin as a discussion itself, with many options; a room, a computer, a street, a city. However they decide to frame and define it, students will draw a map of their corner of the world, with the important people, places, and memories that are linked to it.
One student, when asked to map his “neighborhood”, created an island in the video game Minecraft, replete with a mausoleum honoring his ancestors, homes for those most important to him, and bridges to other lands with other languages and customs and cultures. He was in effect creating a fantasy themed map of his childhood world, which expands outward as he continues to make sense of the expanding nature of his own experiences and interactions with others. It is an ongoing cartographic project, a deeply personal geography, one in which he has started with a foundation of personal relations and ritual, and is expanding outward to include (and invent) other ways of knowing, and being, in complex relationship with his own innermost “lands.”
A simple genealogy or family tree is a useful way to map relationships. By beginning with the physical lineage (who is born of who, etc), students can add a layer of numbers for each person on the tree with corresponding notes on what the student learned or remembers most about them, as a way to reflect and map the impact of the relationship itself. This can be done as a more traditional family tree bracket map, or as a simple web with the student in the center branching out to all known family members. Each of these can be a springboard for poems, vignettes, memoirs, or additional maps.
Essentially a chronological list, students can map out the past events that were important to them and what formative impact each experience had on them (i.e. how did each event change or shape you? What did you learn or ‘take away’ from each event?)
Google Maps has an included option called Timelines, which can automatically show you the places you have visited, along with pictures and timestamps. This can be a very useful tool for creating one’s own timeline, but also be advised that it is also can be invasive, and students and teachers may not be comfortable with allowing an app to collect / display such personal data. Use discretion is advised.
The legend of a map is essentially “what is read” in implicit contrast to “what is seen.” There are many varieties of map “legends,” and incorporating them can enrich the meaning of any map, and is an excellent way to bridge the gap from the visual to the written, or perhaps more importantly, fuse the two together.
Encourage students to notice different legends on different maps and discuss the differences. You can also encourage students to create legends in “long form” or as extended and ongoing notes that accompany the map. Many times great stories and projects can come over time by marking places on an imaginary map and building a world around them, each marker containing its own notes and details to be fleshed out.
Most, if not all maps, have writing of some kind. These can be limited to place names and a legend, to additional notes on locations, to even entire books attached to the map (think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Stevenson’s Treasure Island).
Maps are an excellent method of pre-writing activity for students, but they can also be much more; they can serve as the foundation of a unit of writing. In a heart map, for example, any value, place, or memory written down on the map can be the springboard to a journal entry or memoir story attached to it. The writing can also inspire additional things of importance to the cartographer, which can be added back onto the map. In this way, maps and wiring are symbiotic and iterative, and can lead to a fruitful exchange and extension of writing craft when used in such a way.
Encourage students to add legends, notes with corresponding numbers, journal entries, and any other form of writing and note taking while creating their maps. Many maps offer excellent examples of various methods for this purpose. Also encourage the revisiting of maps frequently, to both think of new writing material and also to reflect on one’s personal growth.