I’ve always been a journal writer myself. I got my very first ‘journal’ when I was about 8 years old. It was one of those little green ‘diary’ books with a little lock and key. There isn’t much in that little book but I still have it today.
Journaling is a great way to record your daily happenings and thoughts. When I first started teaching, I wanted my students to love journaling as much as I did. Some did. Most didn’t. I told them to write about their day. I told them to write about their thoughts. Many of them just stared at me. They said they had nothing to write about. A few even cried at the thought of putting words on paper.
I didn’t want writing to be so hard for them. I began gathering ideas to offer them. Instead of just a free write, I would give them a prompt or idea to spark their writing. Things improved, but I still had kids telling me they had no idea what to write about even with the prompt.
A few years later, I moved up to a new grade. New students, more skills, same problem. They didn’t know what to write about. They found it hard to get started. Their writing jumped from thought to thought. Getting their thoughts on paper was definitely important. Time was limited, and I needed a way to give them some journaling freedom while also pushing them to write better and use their skills.
I found that journal prompts worked wonderful for me and my students. After trying a variety of prompts, I decided on a style that has led to student success. I make sure the prompt is almost always written in a question format. This has helped my students know exactly how to begin. No more blank paper stare. We learn how to restate the question so everyone gets off to a good start.
While this method may not work for everyone, I have found it very successful with my third graders. How have you tried journal writing? Do you prefer open journaling or prompt based journaling?