Thursday, March 23, 2017

Then and Now

I've done a memory map assignment with my reading students every quarter for the last 5 years. As part of the activity, we look at Newbury-award-winner Jack Gantos's answer to the question, "What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?"
The first tip is to get a good journal or small notebook—not too big as you want to be able to slip it into your back pocket. Then get a decent pen. Then I want you to draw a map of your house, or a map of your neighborhood, or map of your school and I want you to draw where everything funny, serious, insane, unexpected, heroic, lousy, triumphant and tragic took place. And then I want you to think about your life as the best material in the world, and each one of your small drawings where something interesting happened will be the opening material for your story. Your discipline should start with ten minutes per day—start small and meet your goal. Then extend your goal as you wish
~Library of Congress,"Meet the Authors"(
Then I show the class a map that was included in the Gantos book Heads or Tails, from which we've read excerpts so they recognize some of the images, and I also share a map of my own that I made of the neighborhood I lived in from ages 4-10. Each icon has a little story attached to it, and usually the students' curiosity about those anecdotes is an effective springboard into creating their own map.

This morning when most of the class had started sketching their own memories, one student waved me over. As I approached to answer her question, she flipped her iPad over to reveal a familiar house. Using just the two street names on my map, she had used Google Earth to conjure up my childhood home, still recognizable 45 years after my family had moved...


For a moment I was speechless. Then other kids came over to look. Where was your school? Where was the creek? they asked about features on my hand-drawn map. Is the peach tree gone? Was that where your mom built the igloo? Is your best friend's house still there?

I answered their questions and set them back to work. Can we use our iPads to search up our neighborhoods? someone asked, of course, because they were born into a world where memory and imagination collide with technology and convenience all the time.

"Start without it," I suggested, "and see where it goes."


  1. What a trip down Memory Lane for you!

    What a great way to help someone get started with a notebook.