To increase student achievement in writing, students must write daily. Journals are an essential place to try out ideas, to build habits and fluency, to write for oneself. They are also the centerpiece for learning the conventions of language through Grammar Keepers. Here are some tools for setting up journals and keeping them lively. Also, check out these favorite sites.
The more freedom students have to record their own lives, the more they will want to keep their journals. You decide how best to organize their writing: some teachers divide up the pages; some tape two composition books back-to-back and use them one side for reading workshop and the other for writing; my favorite way is to number all the pages and use several pages for a table of contents. That way, students always use the next page for any kind of writing or responding, and it’s all in order yet chronicled in the TOC.
If we want students to be generative thinkers, we shouldn’t get them in the habit of only writing in response to topics we give them. If they understand from the beginning that their journals are a place to record the things in their lives that they want to remember, then they already have plenty to put in there. However, everyone has blank days, so to address this need, you might supply them with banks of topics they could tape into the backs of their journals. Then on days they “don’t have anything to write about,” they can shop for a topic from the topic banks in their journals. It’s best if you and they create the banks, but here are some starter sets!
Another type of topic bank, and useful for many activities, heart maps can function as sources for journal writing. The heart shapes transcend words, conveying that writing is personal. The lists contained in a heart map, no matter the categories, are from the insides of us. The resulting writing won’t be hollow or what Thomas Newkirk calls “false writing.”