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Journal Writing

Compiled By: Editor

Teachers explain how they use journals in their classrooms.

Posted by: Marie

I have 2 journals - math and writing. For the writing journal, I do a brief modelling of writing a journal, demonstrating how I come up with a topic, talking through elements of writing (leaving a space between words, capitals, periods), and we blend and segment some of the words together as a class. I let them choose their own topic for their journals (be careful - you need to hide your journal writing or you may end up with imitations of it). I feel strongly about letting them choose their own topic during this time - because I've found children produce more when the topic is relevant to them.

The children usually write 1 or 2 sentences during the beginning of the year, and increase to around 2 pages by the end of the year (by themselves, I _never_ tell them how much they should write. I do praise them for writing more though. I've found if you tell them how much to write, they will end their story at that limit, and never write more). After they are done writing, they can illustrate their journal (I use half blank, half lined exercise books).

As well, I don't edit the journals. I use this as my evaluation of what elements of writing they can produce on their own. If a child has misspelled a word because they have not sounded it out properly (young children often say "f" for "th" e.g. wif for with), I'll teach them how to say the word properly and suggest they go back and fix that up. Or if a child has really no clue about spacing or sounding out words, I'll write a message back to them at the bottom of their page (in their presence). All this interaction takes place once a child finishes their journal. Once finished, they bring it up to me to read to me, and at that time I try to make one specific, relevant comment on their writing ("Jimmy, I notice you've using spaces between your words here and here. Good for you!"

One key sanity point - never tell a child how to spell a word. You'll have 20 other kids asking you for every word they want to put down. Tell them to use their ear spelling, that they have all those sounds in their head (I'm assuming your kindergarten has taught them letter sounds). It helps them build confidence as writers, and they focus on the message rather than nitty gritty spelling. Spelling can be emphasized during guided writing, interactive writing, word wall exercisies, etc. Oh - during my modelled journal writing, I ask them if I could find a word in the room - kids will eventually catch on to use the word wall.

Good luck!

Posted by: L.P.

We usually do our journals together with me writing on the board. I set up their journals with a "smiley face" and two lines. They start writing at the smiley. I draw a smiley on the board and two lines, then tell them what words we are going to write. I sound out the words to them and they tell me the letters to write, then they copy it. (Once they know their letters better, I will have them write it on their own)After we're done writing, we do directed drawing, usually with geometric shapes. When they've finished the drawing to go with the words, they can add anything they want to the picture. Once a week we have "their choice" drawing and I tell them that they must do some writing on the page even if it is only their name. I help sound out words or spell if asked. I subbed in a kindergarten class where the teacher would write the words for them on slips of paper and was still doing it at the end of the year! She left instructions for me to have them sound it out and then write it but they were so dependant on those slips of paper that they were clueless.

Another teacher whose classroom I worked in as an assistant, had a picture clue/phonetic chart stapled in their journals. It was my job every morning to help them sound out the words (but not write it for them) while she did individual reading with the students. I would sit at a table with them and sound out their words and they would write the letters, using the chart if they needed it. It was very intense and hectic. This was towards the end of the year though when I started working with her. I am not sure what she did at the start of the year when the students didn't know as much.

Posted by: Jana

A few bits of advice... I don't know if your familiar with the 'four-block' approach (patricia cunningham,) but my school has starting 'doing' four-blocks this year, and it's sort of changed the way i've done my journal writing time-- which is our writing segment of the day. We call them 'journals,' but they're just our notebooks. I start by modeling my own writing for about 5 minutes-- i use the overhead and verbalize everything that's going on in my head, including my brainstorming, etc. You can even do things wrong and have kids correct you at the end. During this modeling you're pointing out strategies you're using, like using the word wall, thinking about capitals, punctuation, etc. You can direct a 'mini-lesson' right in your writing. However, this modeling only takes about 5 minutes.

For first grade, i wouldn't be so concerned about the perfect finished product. Think of the journals more as a tool for long-term assessment. They're wonderful to see where a child starts, and how they progress. Each day i 'conference' with only 3-4 children. It's impossible to see every child each day-- and i used to try to do this. Spending about 5-7 minutes with just a few children allows you to assess on the spot. Where are they, what do you notice, where do you want them to go next. You can point out these things to them and write notes right in their journals for your own records. If you worry too much about spelling the kids will get frustrated and not want to open up and just write. Our focus really should be more about the PROCESS of writing. However, you do want them to spell the high freq./word wall words correctly.

At the end of our 25-30 minute writing session, the same 3-4 students have the chance to share with the group what they've written.

As the year progresses you can get more into 'publishing', and continuing pieces of work.

journals (long)
Posted by: sm3rd

We do journals each week in our third grade class. I have it scheduled for once a day but we usually don't get to them that often. We started the first day of school and my students "love" journaling. The way I do journaling is the following:
Our journal time is for the students to be given a writing prompt or subject usually based on our reading story or a unit we are covering at the time to write about.
It is a time for them to write as much as or as little as they want. They know it will not be graded or corrected (that is the hard part). I feel there is a time for process writing, grammar writing etc but journaling is not used for that.
They include a picture to go along with their entry. At times the students have an opportunity to share their journals with the class.
After they turn them in I read each one and comment about each child's journal entry. This is usually just a comment about what they have written about or an experience I have had similiar to the one they are writing about. The students love to get their journals back and read my comments. Sometimes I ask them a question and they then write back to answer.
I feel journaling is a powerful learning idea. Students need a time of "free" writing when they can be creative!
There are also times when my students go on trips during the year with their families. Part of their class assignments includes taking their journal with them and journaling each day about their events. When they come back they read to the class what they did while they were gone.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Go for the journaling!!!!

Posted by: Kelly

I use journals as a part of my literacy centers. Each child writes in his or her journal at least once a week, sometimes more if there is something special to write about or if the child wants to write in it. I work with 5 students at a time. I usually give them a topic related to the theme we are working on. For example, this week was all about the letter A and apples, so the children drew pictures of magical apple trees. After drawing their pictures, I encourage the children to "write some letters" to go with their drawings. I will stretch words out for the kids to write down. There are no right or wrong ways to spell words during journals, and I make this very clear from the beginning. The only thing the children have to do is try their best to write whatever sounds they hear in the words they would like to say. Before ending this activity, each child "reads" what they wrote, and I copy their words at the bottom of the page.

This is a great way to show progress in learning how to write and about letter sounds. Random letters turn into inventive spelling, which can then turn into conventional spelling for some children, if developmentally appropriate. The kids really love writing/drawing in their journals, and are proud to read what they wrote to me. They also like to share their work with their parents when they come in to visit, and are thrilled with the idea that they will get to take their journals home at the end of the year.

Good Luck!

Posted by: Helen

I have done this several ways over the years. One way was to give them wirebound notebooks ,just like the older kids, and allowing them to draw a picture first and then write..accepting just a picture if that is all the child can do, or just one word. As the children progress, require a minimum of one sentence etc. I have made 1/2 page limits for some first graders will fill the pages with nothing but pictures...You also must make rules/no sheets may be torn out for your personal use..otherwise your Journals may get pretty skinny!!!!LOL
I have also made Journals by folding sheets of manilla paper or newsprint (unlined) in 1/2 and covering with construction paper...and let the kids write on that/drawing is accepted also although writing should grow and drawing shrink as the year progresses.
I have also taken that manilla paper and made blackline masters and run them through the copier to put lines on the bottom 1/2 of the folded paper for them to write on.
Each of these have worked well with different classes. You really have to look at your storage areas and where your children will keep their journals AND talk with the Kindergarten teacher and see just what kind of kids you have coming!
Folded manilla paper (plain) journals also work well for Math. Glue a math related cutout or a seasonal cutout on the cover, and put just enough pages for a gradeing period or a month and have children copy and work daily math problems in the journal.

Posted by: Susan/5th

I can tell you what I've done in the past and what I'm doing this year. When I taught 8th grade, I used to have journals for every child (they brought their own composition book) and wrote their name on the front. When they entered my room, they started working on DOLs, then did a journal entry on the board. Their journals stayed in a stack (by classes) in my room, on a shelf. A designated person from each class would pass them out. I only graded them once a quarter. That was a writing grade, and they had to have so many of them to get an A. I had a rubric for them. I didn't read every entry each child wrote. I skimmed them and read a few - and made a comment on at least one per child. I mostly did journals for them to write freely - on a topic I gave them. They needed the chance to write without having to correct grammar, spelling, etc...
Now, teaching 5th grade, I'm going to use journals at the end of the day, to reflect on their day - what they learned, what they liked, etc... I'll grade them very similar.

Posted by: Tina

Hi! In my class I have two journals-poetry and writing. My students write in their writing journal every morning while things are getting settled. As soon as the kids come in and I say "Good morning". I remind them to pick up their journals and give them the prompt that's on the board. We use those black and white composition notebooks for this.

I try to get to our poetry journals twice a week. This doesn't happen all the time. I give my students a copied or typed poem that they paste in a spiral notebook. The poems vary. Some are related to a theme or holiday, while others are used to discuss short vowels sounds, songs etc. I also like to read the poem to them, then they read with me and then I ask for volunteers to read a line. I might even read a couple lines and the students fill in the rhyming word. They enjoy using crayons or highlighters to underline/circle specific parts. I might ask that they underline the word that rhymes with "look" for example, or underline all of the words beginning with "g".

I try to have student share their writing journals occassionally.

Hope that helps.

Posted by: karen

I start doing journals right on the fist day of school. I divide the class into 2 groups that they remain in for the whole year. While one group does journals, they other works on something different. This way, I can spend more time with the half doing journals.

I first model for the students, by writing the date, my name and a story. I pick different areas to work on (ie left to right motion, capital letters, high frequency words, questions, etc.) I let the students pick the topic. When they have an idea, they put up their hand, tell me and then go to work.

At the beginning of the year I print their name in the journal and they copy it. When they bring the journal to read it to me, they must spell their name. When they can do this, I write their name on a name tag and they copy it from there until they can spell both first and last on their own.

I also write down what the child's story is. This teaches them that although they are doing "writing" it is different than adults, and they will learn to read and write as we do.

Hope this all makes sense to you!