Journaling is a powerful educational tool for language learning as it 1) connects reading with writing, 2) encourages cognitive development in the foreign language, and 3) facilitates practice of conversational language writing.
It also deemphasizes the ESL/EFL teacher as the engager and frees up her classroom time for other activities, which can be very helpful in a large or busy class. The question then is not why use journal activities, but how to use journal activities, especially with teens that might not be thrilled at the prospect of writing. Here are six activities to try in a teen journaling segment of your ESL/EFL class that will make them want to write.
Use These Ideas to Help Your Teenagers Write
Response to a Movie Scene/TV Show
Show a brief 10-15 minute clip from a movie, TV show, or interesting YouTube video. Prepare two or three questions in follow up to the video. Do not use impersonal topics, like “What did the characters in the scene look like?”, but use questions like “What would you do if you lived in an apartment in New York City?”, or “How would you feel if somebody treated you like that?” The trick is to relate the scene back to the students’ emotions. Teens are very self-absorbed by nature, and they will respond better if they are asked to connect situations to themselves. In addition, that technique inspires cognitive development and analytical thinking as opposed to rehashing obvious facts.
Response to a Song
Print out the lyrics to a favorite pop song and play it for students in class. Ask them to write about how they can relate to the song. You can use a romantic song, but romantic topics might make them shy and less willing to share. It is better to use another teen-related theme like being free or rebellion. Provide two or three topics and ask them to write about one of them. For example, play “Free Falling” by Tom Petty and ask them, “Does it feel good to completely lose control?”, or “Have you been in a situation when you felt completely out of control, and was it freeing?”
That Made Me So Angry!
Have a conversation session about being angry, discussing two or three situations that invoke anger in teens. For example, ask them, “Has anyone ever broke your trust and made you angry as a result?” This topic provokes thought in teens because adolescence is the time when innocence falls and we become aware that people are not always good, which is taught by people hurting us and making us angry. Do not focus on the conversation aspect. Only a few students will be outgoing enough to openly share, which serves well for examples. The others will prefer to react to their classmates’ responses and journal.
What Is Your Opinion?
Teens are, probably for the first time, realizing they have opinions different from those of important adults in their lives. Ask them, “What is one thing your parents believe that you think is wrong?”, or “What is a rule your school has that is silly?” Give them a personal example from your youth: “When I was in school, we could not dye our hair, which was silly because…” These opinions are good to share after the journaling session for a conversation starter!
Response to an Article
Pick an article from a teen magazine, or a teen topic from the paper. Topics that involve social media, parties, social behaviors, fashion trends, or other subjects particular to teens in your area will work. Read the article in class and check for meaning by asking, “What is this article about?” and other comprehension questions. Then, ask them to write for 10 minutes relating themselves to the article. If it was about a fashion trend, ask “Would you ever wear that type of shirt? What do you prefer to wear?” or “What do you think about fashion versus utility?”
Message Me about a Social Event
Teens would rather think about their social lives than their school or work lives, and they probably even ignore you and have private conversations about those lives during your class. Ask them, for homework or as a classroom journaling session after the weekend, to react to a social event that they attended, like a friend’s birthday party or a family lunch. Instead of instructing them to write generally about certain aspects of what happened at the event and how the event made them feel, ask them either to log a text dialogue (translating to English if necessary) they had with a confidante after the event or create a text dialogue about the event. That type of writing will make them think in English about their emotions and informal conversation as they would in their native language.
ESL/EFL instructors can teach all of the grammar and vocabulary in the English language books, but if they do not engage students in using English cognitively, students will struggle to retain it after they receive their diploma and leave the structured classroom environment.
Making teen ESL learners want to journal opens those brain channels and takes learning to a new level!