Oftentimes when people hear the word journal they think of a diary that records someone’s daily actions, but a journal can be much more than that. A journal is a place to write and explore ideas, think of new things to write about, and keep track of those great ideas that are so fleeting.
Try some of the following activities with your students to broaden their understanding of what a journal is and what it can be used for.
A journal is a great place to keep a collection. No, not a collection of stamps or a collection of roosters, a collection of words. An easy place to start is to title a page of your journal “Words I Like.” Your students can then add words as they learn them or encounter them. These are not vocabulary words they need to learn per se; they should be words that have some sort of appeal to your students. They may like words with an interesting sound like okey-dokey, onomatopoeia, or cellar. They may collect words with meanings that they like, for example, loved one, romance, or achievement. They may collect phrases that are funny or interesting to them like rain cats and dogs or a toothy grin. They may collect words that do all of these things. Then when they write, your students can look back on these words and use them in their own writings. They can also use these lists for vocabulary study to increase their vocabulary.
Your students can collect more than words in their journals; they can collect information, too. Have your students set aside one page and title it with a subject that interests them. It may be a page titled monkeys, robots, or eggs. Whatever the topic, have your students start collecting information on that subject and listing it on that page. This not necessarily a research project. They may encounter information about their subjects while watching television, surfing the internet or from other experiences they may have. At some point, encourage your students to use that information in their writing, either in a fictional piece or in a report of some kind. With all the groundwork done, they will have easy access to a large amount of information and will be able to dedicate more time to writing rather than researching.
Everyone today has a busy life, and students are no exception. With our intense schedules, we often do not take time to just look at what is around us. A journal is a great place to just take a few minutes and observe the things around us. Challenge your students to do a one hundred observation list. A one hundred observation list is just what it sounds like: one hundred observations about one thing. One of the easiest things to make one hundred observations about is your hand. Since most people are right handed, tell your students to make one hundred observations about their left hands. These should not be pieces of information that they research like the bones in the hand or the muscle structure. They should be qualities they are able to observe just by looking at, listening to, feeling, smelling or tasting their hands (of course, washing hands is recommended). After making observations about their hands or even instead of making them, you can have your students make observations about any object: an apple, a pen, their classroom. They will be challenged to pay more attention to what is around them as well as put those observations into words.
If weather permits, another observation challenge is to go outside, find a comfortable spot and observe the world around you. Allow your students some independent time to write about the world around them. You will be amazed at the details your students write about what they see, hear, smell and feel. They do not have to contain their observations to one spot, either. Have your students take an observation walk either in class or as homework. Ask them to write as they walk or to take in all the details and write about them when the walk is finished. The more detail they can give, the better.
Many times, writers think their journals have to contain only the experiences they encounter each day, but a journal is also a place where a writer can remember her past. The personal narrative is one of the first places to start when trying to teach your students how to write a fictional story. We know our own stories better than we know anything else, so what better place to start writing than with our own lives. Sometimes simply starting with the phrase “I remember” is enough to get your students writing on and on, but sometime they need more than this. “I remember a time I felt proud…I remember I time I was angry….I remember when I was excited…” Start your students’ memories with an emotion. We are so closely linked with our emotions; we remember feeling all different kinds of ways. Moreover, when we feel those emotions again, we can remember what we did or what we were thinking. These reminiscences are good for the times you just want your students to write without interruption and without criticism. Later, after your students have gotten their stories on to the paper, is the time to revise, edit and adjust.
Closely linked to the idea of past emotional experiences is writing about people from our pasts. All of us have people that were significant to us whether they impacted us positively or negatively. Challenge your students to remember someone from their past – perhaps someone they loved and lost, perhaps someone they wish they could get revenge on, perhaps someone they simple lost touch with but would like to find again. Have your students write a letter to that person knowing that the letter will never reach him or her. This may free your students in a way they could not otherwise experience and may even help them work through some difficult times of their pasts.
Your students can use their journals to plan future pieces of writing. Start by explaining the words character, setting and conflict. These terms are simple for your students if you tell them that the character is the person in a story, the setting is where and when it happens, and the conflict is the problem that the character has to face in the story. Give your students an example of story planning by listing a character, setting and conflict on the white board. Then do one or two more with your students supplying the information. Then challenge your students to a five-minute race. Have your students list in their journals as many sets of character, setting, conflict as they can in the five-minute time limit. After the race is complete, count the examples and declare a winner. Now show your students how you can go to that plan and determine the resolution to the conflict. Remember that the character should solve his own problem rather than having someone else come and solve it. Now give your students five to ten minutes to go back to their sets they made in the five minutes and add resolutions to each of them. Now have your students plan their own futures. “One day I hope to…I will…someday I am going to….”
Yes, a journal is a good place to record our daily activities and thoughts, but a journal is so much more than that.
These activities are only a few of the many creative ways you can use a journal to encourage writing in your students. Let these be a starting place for you and your class, and look forward to the many things your students have to say.