This lesson is taken from Ralph Fletcher's Teaching the Qualities of Writing Kit. I explain to the class that today, we'll be drawing maps. These maps should represent a place you know very, very well. It is a place that you have visited many times; a place that makes you feel safe. You have many memories in this place. Hopefully, you've visited it recently.
This is not a place you have been once or twice on vacation. It could be your house or bedroom. It could be a grandparents or relatives house. I always use my grandmother's house.
I explain to the kids that my grandmother died right before I graduated from high school. But that she was a very special person. When I was younger, my parents divorced, and I went back and forth a great deal between two houses. However, I always had my grandmother's house. Her home represented safety during an unstable time. I always share this information with my students. It seems personal, but I believe it helps to give them great ideas of what to draw.
Then I explain I am going to draw the blue prints or birds eye view of the inside of my grandmother's house. The more detailed I can be, the better. At this point, the kids are riveted. I draw a basic outline. However, I make sure to include little details, like the long cord attached to the telephone, or the plants that we used to water on Saturday mornings after sleepovers.
Then I turn it over to the kids. Now it is their turn to draw.
Students take their time to create their maps. I let them really get into this. I believe allowing them to engage with their maps improves the accuracy and therefore improves memory, and in turn improves their stories.
The more details, the better. I say they'll have 25 minutes to work on their maps. Before they begin drawing, they'll have many questions.
Can I draw my own house?
Can I draw my vacation house?
I usually say yes, as long as you know this place very well and have memories that accompany this place. Often, some kids will say they can't think of anywhere to draw. It is important not to get frustrated with these kids; the truth behind that statement might be a sad one. I say that they can always draw their home. One year, a little boy told me he didn't have any good memories from his house. I said, what about school? He asked if he could draw the auditorium. I said sure, sounds like a great idea. So he drew the auditorium from his elementary school.
This piece I took directly from Fletcher. I get the students attention, which can take some work. I ask them to put down their pens a few times, promising they can return. Then I ask if they know what X marks on a pirate's map. They all say, treasure. I tell them on our maps, X will mark the place of a memory. I start to model this on my own map.
Here is the phone cord that I used to twist around and around.
And here is the living room, where we used to clear away all of the furniture for my impromptu dance performances.
And here is the kitchen table, where my grandmother and I planned my aunt's wedding.
And here are the plants that my grandmother used to water on Saturday mornings after sleepovers.
I make X's throughout my map, with quick blurbs next to them giving myself hints about the memories. Now I turn this over to the kids. They should mark their memories using their maps. This usually goes quite well, especially if they spent time thinking about what to map out.
If there is time at the end, students can share at their tables. I've done "gallery walks" before, where students leave their map out at their table and kids walk around to examine their work.