There is some good evidence to suggest that writing journals for children can be a useful way of building writing skills and providing opportunities to practise what is being taught in the classroom.
Teachers approach journal writing in different ways, and it is important to find a method which works for your own students and classroom environment and which is also supported by evidence.
Here are two different methods that you could explore with younger and older primary aged students:
Writing and drawing for younger students
In this approach, junior and middle primary students are provided with time each week to write and draw in their journals.
This can be a structured task in the sense that the teacher can provide the prompt for the writing topic, such as ‘people who live at your house’ or ‘jobs people do in the community’.
However, it can be unstructured, in that children are encouraged to both write and draw and that they are able to choose the time and sequencing of these two tasks.
They can elect to draw a picture first and then add text, or they can write a text and then illustrate it.
Some children will incorporate drawings into their text through labels, speech bubbles or blended text and visuals, while others will prefer to create a single drawing which reflects what is in their text.
Some children may extend their pieces to take on a cartoon or magazine-style format, while others may incorporate graphics, headers or highlighted sections of text or illustration.
Key to the success of this approach is the focus on children’s choice and autonomy; teachers do not specify whether the drawing or writing should come first, nor do they value one above the other.
Visual imagery and written text are both valued and appreciated in this approach.
Once older children have mastered the ability to write sustained pieces of text, they are able to independently create journal entries which reflect their own thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Unfortunately this is also the stage where children are often hurried on from simply enjoying the process of writing personal reflection texts, and instead are encouraged to focus their attention on persuasive, expository or procedural texts.
There seems to be little time left in a crowded classroom program for simply writing what is on their mind.
But perhaps at this critical time in life as they are preparing to make the transition into a secondary school environment, there is a great need for time to be dedicated to simply writing what they are thinking and feeling without concern for having their writing critiqued or judged.
Keys to the success of keeping a personal journal are teachers providing the time, space and encouragement for children to write and the lack of correction or comment from the teacher unless it is requested.
Children can volunteer to share their journal writing if they wish to, but this is not a compulsory part of the process.
So if you are finding that your students are disengaged from the process of writing, why not spend some time researching the process and evidence behind writing journals?
Invest in some attractive notebooks and some drawing and writing equipment, set up some comfortable spaces in the classroom to write and allocate time each week for planned, positive writing time which allows children to simply enjoy the process of expressing themselves through text and imagery.