Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Activities Like This Put the Energy Back in Writing!

Hi, Teaching Friends!

Do your students write in journals every day? In addition to all of the other writing that's part of the daily curriculum, most first graders enjoy sharing some of what's going on in their own lives in an ongoing personal narrative.

Of course, "most" is the tricky word in the previous sentence ... there are always a few reluctant writers who will tell us that there's not one new or interesting thing (or even an old and boring thing) that they can write about. When forced to dig into The Teacher's Bag of Tricks at those moments,
I've tried many of the same things I'm sure you also have...

*  Have a little informal chat with the child and hone in on a topic that he/she can expand.

*  Put two children together to talk with each other for a few moments. If need be, throw a "conversational ball" (figurative or literal!) at them and let it get their mouths and brains going ... "talk about what you'll do at recess today", "talk about what you see on the way to school", "talk about what you hope is in your lunchbox today". Talk often morphs into a renewed enthusiasm for writing.

*  Send the child off to the classroom library to find a favorite book to write about.

Sometimes variety is just what's needed to get the energy back into writing. Enter, "Variety Journals"!

Variety Journals come in two types ... but I use, "come in" loosely, since this is an idea, not a product!

First, there are whole class journals, with each child writing an entry to complete a book that will be perfect for your classroom library. Half page size is nice for this - that's part of the variety! :)
It's very easy to just chop up some copy paper, stick on a cover (made by you or a student), and staple to bind it. Another more durable alternative is to use a composition book, sliced in half horizontally. I've heard that many of the gracious employees at the big home improvement stores will do this for teachers. Use packing tape to affix a bright and inviting cover.

The whole class journals are nice as a "special writing day", when each student writes in a different journal. I know, you'll need so many journals! But a few minutes spent as a class generating an idea list will yield plenty of results for journal writing experiences that will probably last you a few months. Besides, making a class list is shared writing!! Bonus points for you and your kiddos!

Another Variety Journal that I've used with much success is a Monday Journal. Each child has his or her own writing book for this one, and simply uses it for journal writing on Mondays.  They write about who they saw, where they went, what they ate, what they wished they had done (a lot of that, with many tales of woe about missed amusement parks!), or whatever that wanted that related to the weekend. A nice benefit of the Monday Journal is that it builds an expectation that you will definitely be writing about your weekend, so you'd better come prepared with an idea to write about. I found that there was a good amount of carryover of that writing skill into general journal writing, and self-selecting topics started to become easier for some reluctant writers.

The third type of variety journal is an individual themed journal. Sometime we'd take a week and do all of our journal writing in these. Here's a free download of a Snow Journal that also includes eight ideas for writing. You might want to cut apart the idea list, fold the pieces up, and put them in a hat (maybe a snowman's top hat, just for fun?), and have a different child pull out a writing topic each day. With you controlling the topics, you can steer the writing  in themed journals in the direction of your class' needs or your current teaching topics - writing directions, lists, fantasy, labeling, persuasive writing, descriptive writing, math writing, friendly letters, etc.

Individual themed journals are great to use throughout the year. Connect them to your work in social studies and science to infuse more daily non-fiction writing into your curriculum. Will you share some of your ideas for themes in the comments? Thanks!

Happy Teaching!

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