As you have probably already experienced at some point in your teaching career, it can be a major challenge to have your students quietly find their seats and have their materials out, let alone have them complete a warm-up exercise.
With seemingly less and less time and more curriculum to cover in class, it’s important to maximize these first few minutes, and that’s why journaling for just 10 minutes at the start of class every day can both eliminate wasted class time and (more importantly) create thinkers and writers.
Benefits of Daily Journaling
Daily journaling is an excellent chance for students to conduct a “mental warmup” as well as an opportunity to become reflective and introspective thinkers. Not only does daily journaling eliminate wasted time at the beginning of class, but it also gets students thinking before they even arrive to class.
Knowing ahead of time that they’ll have to produce some piece of writing, whether it’s a few lines of poetry, potential lyrics to a song, a character sketch – whatever it may be – they’ll start thinking! And that’s what you want – thinkers first - and then the writing can fall into place (if it hasn’t already).
Just the repetitive practice of journaling each day puts students in a frame of mind to always be thinking, reflecting, and observing.
By prompting your students to write a journal entry for 10 minutes each day, you’ll begin to see a variety of benefits:
Students Become More Comfortable with Writing
Journaling creates a safe space for beginning writers, English language learners, and students who just don’t feel comfortable with or excited about writing.
When students are afraid of writing or simply don’t like it, journaling can bridge the gap and move them from just words and phrases (as many reluctant writers will begin with these) to sentences and paragraphs. You can build their confidence by emphasizing that their journal is not graded, nor is it meant to be a collection of polished writings.
Tell your students to think of their journals as working spaces to get their thoughts and reactions down on paper. A sandbox, if you will.
With this open-minded perspective on the opportunities that the daily journal offers, your classroom can become a community of writers for the sake of writing and without the pressure to create something perfect.
Students Develop Writing Fluency
As with any daily ritual, your students will grow as writers just by getting in the habit of committing words to paper. Giving your students time each day to write will help them grow in literacy and language fluency. Practice, practice, practice!
When students create journal entries, they subconsciously build skills in organization, and they refine their voice by finding their written rhythm. This is especially true if they are sharing and responding to their classmates.
Students Generate Ideas for Future Writing Pieces
While students should enjoy writing journal entries about their weekend or musicians that they like, journaling can be just as important from time to time to steer their entries toward any current goals you want your students to accomplish.
Whether they be unit goals, specific writing skills, or themes from a work of literature you’re studying, students can be journaling about topics that pertain to what they will eventually write about in higher-stakes assignments or essays.
If they write down their thoughts about a novel as they read it, they will have pages of material that is essentially fleshed-out brainstorming. Maybe they will be able to use sentences or an entire paragraph from their journal in that larger assignment or project!
Keeping a daily journal provides an outlet for students to create, jot, organize, and share ideas that can serve as stepping stones or early drafts of future writing.
Final Thoughts on Daily Journaling
When implemented effectively, daily journaling can be the most useful low-stakes medium for improving student writing.
Because journaling can take so many forms, it is important for you to think about what you want your students to achieve by writing these journals. Just as you would if you were to keep any kind of personal journal, consider what content you want them to have in a written record and for what reason.
And of course, tailor your system so that it works best for your unique set of students and the class dynamic. This might mean modifying your prompts, your desired entry length, or your grading system (if any at all!) as you go.
You will find that once you find a daily journaling pattern that works for your students, it can be one of your greatest tools for improving your students’ writing – and all it takes is 10 minutes.