Standard Lesson

Graphic Life Map

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Students sometimes have difficulty recalling important events in their early lives to write about. This lesson works to resolve this challenge by having students brainstorm as a whole class, in order to benefit from collective recall as they define pivotal moments in their lives. Once items have been remembered, students focus on details of these events by choosing graphic symbols for these moments, people, and places, narrowing their lists to eight to ten items, and then ranking and graphing the items so that the overall connections and patterns are revealed. The graphic life map not only gives students specific events to write about but also includes a graphic for each memory that will help bring the events to life.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The NCTE Guideline on Adolescent Literacy states: "All students need to go beyond the study of discrete skills and strategies to understand how those skills and strategies are integrated with life experiences. Langer, et al. found that literacy programs that successfully teach at-risk students emphasize connections between students' lives, prior knowledge, and texts, and emphasize student conversations to make those connections." Students help each other make connections to important life events through collaborative brainstorming. Their lives become the focus of their prewriting, as they graphically map important events in their own lives.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

General classroom materials




  • Gather graph paper, rulers, pencils/pens, and construction paper if you don’t have Internet access. If students will create poster-sized displays of their life maps, you will also need supplies such as tag board, poster paper, construction paper, colored markers, and crayons.

  • Prepare enough copies of the Graphic Map Pictures, Graphic Life Map Planning Sheet, and (if desired) Graphic Life Map Rubric handouts for each of your students.

  • For additional resources see the Graphing Your Life page.

  • Test the Graphic Map interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify key moments, people, and places in their lives.

  • create an evaluative scale, from high points to low points, ranking the key moments.

  • order key moments in chronological order.

  • choose illustrations and text that relate to the key moments.

Session One

  1. Discuss images that people use as symbols for events in their lives. For instance, symbol of birth could be a stork or baby; divorce in family could be a drawing of stick people with a lightning strike down the middle.

  2. Pass out copies of the Graphic Map Pictures.

  3. Arrange students into eight groups, with approximately the same number of people in each group.

  4. Assign each group one of the collections of images on the Graphic Map Pictures handout.

  5. Ask each group to review the images in their collection and brainstorm possible life events that the images might symbolize or illustrate. Explain that images can symbolize the life events or be a realistic depiction for the life event.

  6. Have students record their ideas on chart paper that can be posted in the classroom during this entire project.

  7. As the end of the session draws near, ask each group to pick one image to share with the rest of the class. Suggest that they might choose their favorite image, the image that they had the most ideas for, or even an image that they’d like more suggestions for. Have groups post their chart paper when they are ready to share.

  8. When all the groups are ready, have a volunteer from each group share one image and talk in general about the images they looked at.

  9. Invite and encourage class additions to the posted lists.

  10. Explain that the class will use the lists during the next session to begin work on individual graphic life maps. Ask them to take any time remaining in the session and at the beginning of the next session to browse the lists more closely.

Session Two

  1. As students begin entering the classroom, remind them to browse the posted lists of images and the life events that they might symbolize or illustrate.

  2. Once students settle at their desks, display the example life maps for the class if technically feasible. Alternatively, take screen shots and create a PowerPoint or printout of the various events on the life maps:

  3. As students examine the example life maps, ask them to comment on how the images are used, the amount of additional text that has been added, theway the creators comment on the significance (positive or negative) of the life events on the maps, and so forth. Explain that in this first effort at making life maps with the ReadWriteThink tool, students will use a ranking system for rating the significance of each event.

  4. Explain that students will be making their own graphic life maps over the next class sessions. If desired, share the Graphic Life Map Rubric, and discuss the expectations for the activity.

  5. If students will have access to computers to create their maps, briefly demonstrate the Graphic Map interactive if possible, so that students will be aware of how the images will be added to their maps. If computers are not available, explain that students will draw their images or find images in magazines (and other sources) that can be used to illustrate their work.

  6. To begin the process of creating their life maps, return students to small groups.

  7. In their groups, ask students to brainstorm significant life events. Explain that these events can be happy memories, sad memories, scary memories, important places, important people, life-changing events, and so forth.

  8. Challenge each group to come up with at least 30 different life events, recording their ideas on chart paper.

  9. Circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback as appropriate.

  10. Once groups have compiled their lists, have them post their charts where everyone in the class can see them.

  11. Ask a volunteer from each group to present the ideas that the group brainstormed.

  12. As students share their lists, invite and encourage additions.

  13. After all the groups have shared, have students review the class ideas silently and brainstorm possibilities for their own, individual life maps in their journals or notebooks.

  14. For homework, ask that students compile a list of at least 15 items that can be included on their life maps. The lists should be finished by the beginning of the next class session.

Session Three

  1. Pass out copies of the Graphic Life Map Planning Sheet, and discuss the columns on the form:

    • For the rating column, asking that students to give each item a rating from –3 (extremely negative) to +3 (extremely positive).

    • For the image, if students will use computers to publish their work, ask them to choose an image from the Graphic Map Pictures to represent the life event. If students will not use computers, they can generally describe the kind of image that they will draw or paste into place.

    • For the description, ask students to add a brief note that will remind them of the details of the event later.
  2. Ask students to begin planning their own life maps, using the information gathered during the the two class sessions and posted by the groups to complete their charts as well as the lists they finalized for homework.

  3. Encourage students to work collaboratively, sharing ideas and making positive suggestions.

  4. Once students have generally determined their lists, suggest that they sketch out simple graphs of the events to check the ratings of the different items. For instance, if several things are listed as +3 and none are listed as +1 or +2, you might challenge students to look for more differentiation in their ratings.

  5. Near the end of the session, explain how students will publish their life maps during the next session:

    • If computers are available, students will publish their life maps using the Graphic Map interactive, relying on the information on their planning sheets.

    • If computers are not available, students will transfer their memories to a piece of tag board, poster board, or construction paper, drawing graphics and adding caption for each item, and connecting their memories with a road or highway.
  6. For homework, ask students to finish their Graphic Life Map Planning Sheets and to come to the next session ready to publish their work. If students will not be using computers, you can also ask them to search for images to illustrate their life events in magazines and newspapers as part of their homework.

Session Four

  1. Explain the process that students will use to publish their graphic life maps during this session, using the appropriate information below:

    • If students will be using computers, demonstrate how to use the Graphic Map to create a visual representation of the information:

      • Enter a title and names on the first screen.

      • Click the Next link at the top right of the screen.

      • Select Other on screen 2, and type an appropriate label, such as “life events.”

      • Click the Next link at the top right of the screen.

      • On the next screen, select the “3, 2, 1/ –1, –2, –3” option for rating events.

      • Click the Next link at the top right of the screen.

      • On the subsequent screens, describe each of the 10 events they selected in step 2 of the session.

      • Select a picture to represent the event, and select the appropriate rating (–3 to +3).

    • If you do not have access to the Internet in your classroom or a computer lab, follow this procedure instead:

      • Give each student a piece of graph paper, and have them graph the 10 events, with the rating going on the vertical axis and the year going on the horizontal axis.

      • Students should join the 10 dots with straight lines.

      • Have students transfer the rough graph onto construction paper.

      • Beside each graphed event, have students write a short description and add illustrations.
  2. As students finish their work, ask them to reflect on the process in their journals. In particular, ask students to talk about how they chose the life events and any challenges that they faced in the process (as well as what they did to meet the challenges).


  • After this prewriting activity, ask students to choose an event on their maps as the topic of a memoir or descriptive essay. For a more challenging activity, ask students to use the information on their life maps as a loose outline for autobiographies.

  • If computers and the appropriate software are available,students can use Microsoft Excel to graph the events. Students could also use the Timeline Tool, adding a rating to each event’s description. Students should save the graph or timeline and list of events so that they have ready ideas throughout the rest of the school year.

  • As an alternative, use the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Bio-graph: Graphing Life Events to have students create biographical graphic maps for classmates.

  • Have students explore the Prezi presentation tool and consider creating a more elaborate life map. Note: Students must sign up for Prezi to be able to create their own presentations. See this Creating a Prezi resource for how-to guidance. (See also terms of use for age restrictions.)

Student Assessment / Reflections

Because this lesson is meant as a prewriting activity, formal grading is generally not necessary. Observe students’ participation as group members and their individual engagement and accomplishment when creating their own life maps. Focus feedback on the success that students have in choosing and rating significant life events. Use comments to shape and encourage the personal memoir or other autobiographical piece that students will write using this prewriting piece. If more formal feedback is required, however, the Graphic Life Map Rubric can shape commentary.