By Beth Hammett
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Perhaps you’ve tried journal writing before in your classroom, and you cringe at the thought of grading 150 journals once a week or even once a semester. However, using journal writing in the classroom can be a positive learning experience for teachers and students. For teachers, journaling encourages students to free-write and to write-on-demand, skills often needed in standardized testing situations. Also, it allows teachers extra time to write or to get paperwork out of the way. In addition, the benefits of journal writing for students are numerous: grammar usage, paragraph development, vocabulary practice, relieves stress, and sets the tone for classroom writings. Here are some simple tips for using journal writing in the classroom:
1. Block off a specific amount of time each class period for journal writing. Be consistent! For example, the first ten or fifteen minutes of the beginning of the period works well because it gets students ready to write and sets a calming classroom atmosphere. Yet, maybe quiet time is needed at the end of the class period and journal writing can be done before students exit your room.
2. Create a positive atmosphere for writing by setting the mood. Before students enter your classroom,dim the lights or use battery operated candles for relaxation.
3. Use visual prompts that connect to students. For free visual writing prompts using emotional intelligence strategies, click on the “Free Download” button and recieve Emotional Intelligence Writing Prompts .
4. Choose soothing music for background noise. Try Gary Lamb’s Music for the Mind written to improve students’ brain cognitions, or use soothing piano music without lyrics. Find more music at Gary Lamb's website . Take notice that different types of music affect students’ concentration levels.
5. Make grading easy! Take your class roster, give each student 100 points, and deduct specific points for those observed not writing. This is an easier process than grading 150 individual journals on a weekly or monthly basis. Also, give students opportunities to make-up missed journal writes.
6. Don’t grade for content. Don’t worry about what students write. Some use journal writing as diaries while others write fictional stories, how-to essays, or wish lists. Regardless, students are writing, which is great practice. You may have students who are great artists, so ask them to add captions to their illustrations to meet writing guidelines.
7. Don’t grade for grammar usage. The opportunity to write without worry is relaxing. Remind students to use their journals to practice new grammar skills learned in language arts classes. Research states “it takes twenty times of practicing a skill to put it into long term memory…”, and journal writing is perfect for this.
8. Skim students’ journals and try to comment a couple of times per semester. You will learn a lot about your students through journal writing, and be sure students are given privacy. Ask them to fold pages they do not want read by others. Also, remind students you must refer any signs of abuses to administrators.
9. Write and share journals! As a teacher, it’s an opportunity to practice your skills, and it allows time for reflections. Sometimes, it perfect for writing about specific school issues that affect others, or to give input about certain civic topics. Many “ah-ha!” moments occur during journal writings when students are allowed to express their points of views.
For more hints and tips, or how-to use journal writing successfully, read Journal Writing in the Classroom.
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