Short, Fun, and Often: Using Journals to Spark Creative Composition

Are your students tired of writing class? Are you? Janita’s students found composition class tough and uninspiring until she introduced them to journaling. Janita describes the range of projects that can go into a journal, and answers questions like “What kind of notebook should I buy?” and “How do I grade a journal entry?”

Today, I’m going to share with you something that I found really useful in this last year of teaching. I’ve taught for two years previous to this, and this is the first year I’ve started doing journaling. Journaling was something I learned at Faith Builders when I went to Teachers Week last year, and I found it very useful in my classroom.

Before this, I had really struggled with composition grades. I struggled with ideas. I struggled with marking them because it was this big stack of long essays and corrections and groans from my students.

I try to do about one fun assignment a week. What this looks like is different every week. Sometimes it will look like painting, drawing, doing a map of their house, doing an invention, creating something that they think would be fun, maybe a career they would like to do or something that gets their imagination going. A country they would like to visit and why, or places they want to go. Vacation spots. Draw something that you think has never been drawn, something like that, and they always have a lot of fun with that.

I also maybe get them to do some language assignments. In our books—we do A Beka language, and so in there there’s writing assignments, and sometimes it tells them to write a story about—maybe, for one example, it’s a monkey and a gorilla. So a really fun way to do that is to simply print out a cartoon monkey and gorilla from the computer, give them to them and tell them “Today we’re going to do this in journal!” And suddenly it seems so much more fun than it did if they were just doing it in their diagramming books or their notebooks or had to suddenly write down a paper. They were expecting it. They knew it was coming and they were just excited to know what today was going to be.

So I’m going to read you an example just to get your minds rolling. Then we’re going to take a look at doing these and filling them in on your paper.

Joy. Joy is bright green. It tastes like orange juice. It smells like sunshine. It looks like fireworks.

I found that really helped with language assignments as well, and it was really fun when they came to that page, then just skip over it and it feels like less language as well. The idea of having something short and fun for the students, and for myself, with different ideas and lots of different styles of writing, was really inviting to me.

One thing that I found useful was to buy notebooks that were really fun, not just your ordinary school notebooks. They had to be colorful and I allow my students to decorate them however they want, so it’s their own personal space.

Another rule I have for my journals is that they’re their books. I’m not going to be sharing their content with every person that comes into the classroom. I always tell them that their parents will probably be reading them as well as me, but beyond that it’s their books.

I try to keep them really short. We do about 15 to 10 minutes of journal every day. It depends on what the project is, but we try to keep it short and often, so that they know what’s coming and they get very excited.

For grading, mainly I put their grades in under composition and some of them, especially if it’s a language assignment, sometimes I mark it as a quiz and put it under their language grade. A main part of it is completion. So, if I give them a specific assignment—so sometimes I’ll tell them they need to write a paragraph. It needs to be fully functional, it needs to be have everything proper. If I lay that all out, I will mark that on completion. I always let them know which ones are graded, and which ones are not. Some things like a painting one, I don’t grade it all, and it’s just a fun project. I usually tell them which ones are being graded and which ones are not, and then I put them under assignments. The bigger ones, something like poetry or a longer story, I will put as a test mark.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from parents. I have heard conversations spilling over into lunch from my students discussing what they are—what they invented or what fun thing we’re going to do next, or “We should do this for journal.” I feel like it’s a really fun way to bring the classroom together, and a really fun way to do writing. I thank Deana Swanson for the idea, and I just really enjoyed composition this year.

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