First times

Georgia Heard’s book, Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing, has been out for a couple of years now, but when I facilitate writing workshop training for teachers in my district, many still haven’t heard of heart maps.

Since the first step in being an effective writing teacher is to write, I show teachers how to use this tool for themselves first.

The photo is of Heard’s “First Times” heart template. I’ve filled in many of my personal “first times” which can be spun into stories. Such as . . .

The first time I had a serious injury. I was in the fourth grade, on the playground, standing on a tire cemented to the end of a pole (two of these poles would be used to hold up a volleyball net; this pole was lying down, and I was standing up on the tire’s edge) with the intent of jumping and grabbing hold of the tallest chin-up bar. I missed. I broke my left arm. When I get around to writing this story in all of its gory detail, I must also include my dad, who came to take me to the orthopedist. He brought me an old, smudged doll that I didn’t play with anymore. It was humiliating, but at the same time, seeing him there, holding that bedraggled doll I’d outgrown, his face pinched because of the pain I was enduring, I understood that he was trying to help in the best way he knew how. Yes, I’ll need to write this story, one of these days.

The first time I directed a play. I was a high school senior and my drama teacher was  asked to send two students to the elementary school to lead a small production for advanced learners in the fifth grade. I was chosen to direct the play and a classmate was chosen to teach the students some of the tech, such as scenery and lights. One little boy in the elementary group was painfully shy; I gave him the role of the bad-boy motorcyclist and, well . . . I need to write that story.

The first time I cried over a book. Fourth grade again. The teacher read Charlotte’s Web to the class. Later in the year, she read Old Yeller to us. I didn’t think I’d live through fourth grade (broken arm notwithstanding).

The first time a teacher praised my writing. Fifth grade. The class had written “All About Me” books and the teacher complimented my description of the allergy medicine I had to take. Until this moment, I had no idea my writing had any real value.

The first time I felt sorry, really sorry, for my father. When he got paid at the end of the week, he would cash his check and go to the store for our family’s groceries. Once the shopping was done, he’d put the rest of the money in the bank. One day, when I was a young teenager, Daddy got in line with his loaded cart, reached for his wallet to pay the cashier—and discovered that his wallet was missing. Along with his whole week’s pay.

So, I walk teachers through the process of brainstorming their own “first times” for writing inspiration, before we ever talk about how students might use the heart maps.

And the teachers write. Some stare off into space, thinking; others smile. There’s not a lot of tears when we write about first times.

Those tend to come when we write about last times.

18 thoughts on “First times

  1. Fran, I loved reading your first times! It gave me such insight into who you are while inspiring me to try out that heart map! I have that book and somehow I messed that one!
    But your last line grabbed me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this strategy! I’m also intrigued and would like to read some of those first times. When I was a 4th grade teacher, I did a poetry unit centered around Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech. The first time I read through it- AS a read a loud- (who am I kidding) every time I read through that book, I cried. Eventually, I would warn the kids that I was going to cry- and there we were a whole class of fourth graders and their teacher crying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think those moments when the teacher cries and the students cry in response to something they’ve read is PRICELESS. Nothing captures the power of the written word more – laughter, however is good, too! It’s a reminder that we all feel the same things; it’s the beginning of true empathy and living life well. All spawning from a good, well-chosen book. Thank you for this reply!


  3. Oh, Fran, I’ve been sitting here trying to think of something to write tonight and then I read your post! I will write a list of my own first times. Thank you…for a great idea to use with students and teachers…for the inspiration for my post…and for being such a wonderful support throughout this entire SOLC. I’ve so enjoyed your posts and I especially enjoyed the time you took to comment on each of my posts. Thanks again and again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad this is helpful, Lynn, and that it came when it was needed! I have enjoyed your posts – congratulations on persevering with the challenge, and I will visit your site later to check out your first times. Exciting!!


  4. What a gift you are to teachers! I love hearing about all your firsts and potential stories. I also love Georgia Heard’s Heart Maps. This was a beautiful Slice. I have enjoyed all your posts so much this month.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a cool strategy to use: heart maps!

    I want to try this some time. Thank you for sharing!!! Simple memories can serve as stimuli for cathartic writing opportunities.

    Gotta go – off to create my heart map!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, friend, and thank you – all I can say is, expect the unexpected with this activity! You will learn things about the kids – they will learn things about each other – that you wouldn’t have imagined. It’s great fun.


  6. Fran,
    Your FIRST TIMES and LAST TIMES HEART MAPS posts are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt. I’ve posted them on our HEART MAPS FACEBOOK GROUP with a link to your blog. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, thank YOU, Georgia, for authoring such an excellent book for writers – of all ages! When I facilitate professional development in writing for teachers, one of my favorite moments is sharing these two Maps – I recreate mine each time – and then watch as teachers, however they may view themselves as writers, tap into deep emotions that they pour into their own Maps. It’s a taste of the true power in authentic writing. Transformational for them and for their students. So, I thank you for producing such a resource, for sharing my Maps, for your words here, and for taking the time to let me know. How awesome! 😊


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s