“I have an existential map; it has ‘you are here’ written all over it” – comedian Stephen Wright
There’s something about maps that appeals to the imagination. Maybe it’s the expanse of unknown places beckoning to us, or the comfort of charting what we do know from a different viewpoint. Making maps can help students think through a variety of writing challenges. Because maps are representational, they seem to invite metaphor-based poetry. Mapping emotions, families, or one’s own brain are particularly inviting prompts for poems. Maps of one’s room, home, or neighborhood are excellent prompts for memoir pieces; the more detailed, the better. The act of drawing the map’s elements, along with pondering their spatial relationships, allows students to develop their thoughts in a different way, and makes for more descriptive writing.
As an extension of the Poetry Monster prompt, I asked my third grade students to draw maps of the countries where their monsters lived. In drawing these maps, these young writers created geographical and cultural contexts that helped round out their Poetry Monster characters. The written descriptions of the maps also became the basis for the settings for their stories. Below are two different approaches some students took to this prompt:
My place, my secret place, is called Horinasin. Horinasin has only prisoners, current rivers, Everest waterfalls with pure water, a flower of illusions, a forest of echoes, a famous old terrorizing Book of Death, and perfect hills. It is always freezing, with icy winds, and the sun is frozen. Also, the lake of horrors contains fast alligator groups and poisonous snakes. There are only five dungeon rooms; the rest of the prisoners have to sleep on the floor. The dungeons are made out of hard, cold rocks of cement. The prisoners eat stale bread and cold, freezing brook water from the Current River. They don’t have any celebrations. And the only one who freed himself—we don’t know his name.
by Victoria, 3rd grade
To get to the Lost City, you have to use all your imagination, but think of happy things, and BOOM, you’re in the Forest of Wishes, where you find treasure. Then you walk straight and get to the Tree of Wonder, where all your thoughts go in and come back with answers. Next, you see the Lake of Books. You put your hand in and think of a book you want to read, and take your hand out, and there it is. Then you can walk out and see a mine with a jewel, and you take out the jewel. You walk straight up and see the city made out of pencils, paper and books. When they turn red, you follow the path and see the most delicious fruit. After you take one bite, make a wish, and you’re in the Maze of Wonder. Once you get out, you see a big tree that takes you to the mayor, who is Mona Lisa’s dad. You ask where Mona Lisa is, and he will show you where her room is. She has a huge closet which is filled with a ton of pretty clothes, and she has a machine that you press a button and it changes the weather. And when you want to leave, you just take a bite out of the fruit and wish.
by Zoe, 3rd grade
For more mapmaking ideas, try Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book (also mentioned here), which presents an array of imaginative maps that appeal to young children. Also, a teacher in one of my classroom placements recently shared with me her much-loved copy of The Atlas of Experience, a thought-provoking volume of emotional maps that would appeal to older students and adults as well.
posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools