I have been teaching the 4th grade for two years now and I do journals with them at least once a week as a warm-up to the lesson. I never EVER grade or correct my students’ journals. I do topics based on what we are learning in our stories. My school program is literature and theme based so the kids have stories based on a theme such as creative thinking, friendship, fairy tales, or community ties. I have asked them how would they be friends with someone who did not speak their languages. I also do journal topics based on issues I see in the classroom such as when students have personal conflicts, I ask give them a similar situation and ask them to write how they would resolve it. I also have them evaluate a theme and the work we do in it so I can get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. When my boys were drawing tanks and violent pictures on their work, I had them write their opinion on violence on TV and video games. That was an enlightening one because all of the children said that they thought TV and video games were too violent for children. I asked them if I could show their parents their writing on TV violence. At parent visitation night, I showed them along with the violent drawings and an article on TV violence’s influence on children to make them a little more aware of its effects on them. I helped another girl who was new to the school think of ways to make friends with the girls who had been at the school since preschool. This year I helped one who had been at the school since the age of two work out a feeling of being left out by the other girls by encouraging her to talk to them about how she felt. It’s very wonderful to see how the written dialogues I have can help them.
There are lots of websites out there for journal starters. One that I have used a lot of prompts from can be found here
I had kids who started off this year constantly asking me questions like “How do I spell this?” ("I just want to know what you think.), “How long does it have to be?” and would write a few short, simple (and stiff) sentences. By the end of the year, I have some asking for a new notebook because their own are almost completely full (60-page notebooks too!) although we haven’t been writing in them all the time. Even my weaker students are writing more fluently now. I just regret that this year I have been very busy in other areas that I have not responded to their writing as often as I did at the beginning of the year.
Remind them that their journals are only for getting their ideas and thoughts out and are by no means being evaluated for spelling, grammar, or mechanics. What a great way to boost writing skills and get to know your students better!