Journal writing with a purpose

I absolutely love doing journal writing with my students.
I do journal writing for several reasons.
The first is because my students and I get to know each other well and it helps us build a relationship. Students can express their thoughts and opinions without being interrupted. They enjoy communicating directly with me and I enjoy responding to them.
The second reason I love journal writing with students is because journals provide insight to me about what students need to learn, either having to do with grammar, spelling, sentence structure, content organization or other language arts related concepts. I know from their journals what to base my next writing lessons on.
The third reason I like journal writing is because I can see students’ progress as I flip through the pages of their books. I can see how well they apply my lessons into their writing. I get a good sense if students have assimilated the information from my lessons properly or if we need additional practice.
A student’s journal from my fifth grade class
When I do journal writing with students, these are the guidelines I like to follow:
1 1)   Have several topics for students to choose from.
I want for my students to have a lot to write. When I choose topics, I think it is important to spark the desire to express themselves and share their thoughts, their opinions or everything they know about a topic. When I provide only one choice, I cannot be certain to inspire a student to write about a topic. It is better to provide options.
Topics in all grades should be open ended questions. With younger students, they can be expected to respond to journal prompts with complete sentences. With older students like those whom I currently teach, I expect them to provide explanations, justifications and details in their writing.
Examples of prompts for journal writing could be:
 
What can you, a fourth grader, do to make the world a better place?
Why do you think someone would steal a book from class?
Why should you be allowed to take the class pet home?
Explain why winter could be someone’s favorite season.
   2)   Make expectations clear.
My students know that when I will be reading their journals, I will be checking their work for correct use of grammar concepts that we’ve learned, such as possessives and correct use of apostrophes. They know that I expect students to skip lines to make it easier to read their work and to edit and revise it. Students know that I expect them to provide explanations and details in their writing. Students know that I expect them to check their work.
   3)   Make time for students to share their journals with their classmates.
Journal sharing has many benefits. However, I feel that it is important to agree on guidelines and expectations about respect before the first journal is shared in the classroom.
Knowing that students might be asked to share their work with their classmates motivates them to be more careful when checking their work. They are more likely to catch mistakes before reading their work aloud. Also, when students read their work out loud, I find that they are more likely to catch their own mistakes and make the appropriate corrections to their work.
In my class, when it is time to share our journals, we sit in a circle to be able to face one another.
When students share their work and hear each other’s comments, they are all more likely to try to make the same improvements to their journals the next time they write.
 
When students listen to their peers share their journals in class, they are asked to:
        Think of something positive the writer did, such as the way they used a certain adjectives to describe something.
        Share constructive criticism on how the writer can improve to their work. For example, a classmate could suggest a synonym for a word that was repeated often in the journal entry.
    When students share their work and hear each other’s comments, they are all more likely to try to make the same improvements to their journals the next time they write.
 
    4)   Respond to your students’ work appropriately.
 
     If I want students to feel comfortable pouring their thoughts and hearts out onto their paper, I do not correct their work.
 
     I’ve learned that if students find their work covered in ink when it is returned to them, they are less likely to take risks and to write all of their thoughts. They are more likely to stick to writing what they are sure they can spell correctly and to topics that are familiar with.  
 
     Instead, I choose the most repeated or important mistake from their writing and model the correct spelling or use of grammar so that they can then go back and make the corrections themselves.  I use the information acquired from the journal entry to direct my next lessons.


The words two, chicken and vegetables were misspelled.
I made sure to include these words in my response to my student.
   5)   Expect students to make improvements to their work.
 
     I expect my students to go back and check their work. If I have completed a grammar lesson about the proper use of possessives, then I will expect my students to go back and check their work. 
 
     If there were some recommendations made by a classmate to improve a journal entry, I expect all of my students to go back and see if they could make the same adjustments to improve their writing. 
    
     I also expect my students to read my comments and check their work if they noticed the correct spelling I may have used for a word they had misspelled in their text. 
 
Note the editing in the journal entry, with inserts and eraser marks, from peer review and noticing ways that the text could be improved and clarified.
    
    Please share in the comment section below, what you like or dislike about journal writing with students and the ways you use journals to teach your students about writing. 
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