Thursday, September 3, 2015

Building Back To School #5: My Favorite Writing Journal

Well, this is the fifth and final Building Back to School post in #TeacherMom’s blog hop.  Today I am going to write about a writing tool that I found indispensable in my teaching.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus

It’s a writing journal.  No surprise there, I’m sure, but I would like to describe why I liked one particular type so much and how I used it.  Sometimes I used this type of notebook:
Composition notebook; source: Wikimedia Commons
But I found that most of the pages went unused, even when I had students for more than one year.

No, what I really liked was a smaller notebook that didn’t have a hard cover.  Students could then decorate the cover and make the journal their own.  This notebook has just twenty pages, which is perfect for responding to comprehension questions and learning vocabulary words when reading a novel.  However, it would not be a good choice for an interactive notebook novel study.  The smaller size also looks a lot less intimidating to students and because the pages are smaller, it is easier for students to write more and fill them up.  (It’s like using a smaller dinner plate – the portions look smaller so you don’t eat as much!)
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Cover of fifth grader's writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
Here’s how I used it as a writing journal when reading novels as a whole class: In the front of the notebook, students wrote responses to questions about the chapters.  Sometimes they copied the questions from the SmartBoard, to practice copying correctly.  Some educators may think that’s a waste of time but I think it is a skill that students, especially English Language Learners, need to learn.  Often, they will copy something incorrectly and, because they don’t quite comprehend what they are writing, they do not realize they are making errors.  This is not good when they are rewriting a rough draft into a final copy on a standardized test and making copying mistakes!  So I liked to give my students practice in copying correctly.

But there frequently wasn’t enough time in class for students to write the questions themselves so what I did instead was, in advance, photocopy the questions from the teacher’s guides that I used.  I typed one question and then copied and pasted it enough times so there was one for each student.  After printing out the page, I cut the questions into strips and that way, the students just had to tape or staple the strips into their writing journals, which was much faster than writing everything out themselves.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Pre-made question strip for 5th grader''s writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
Most of the time, one page was enough for the student’s response and my feedback comments.  But if students wanted to write more, I certainly encouraged them to do so!  Each question was written/pasted at the top of a new page, unless there was more than half a page of space available.

Teaching vocabulary was a big part of my instruction when using a novel in my classes.  To make things easy for my students, the back of the writing journal was used for vocabulary definitions and sentences.  Starting on the last page of the notebook, students wrote each chapter’s vocab words—usually between three and five or six words—with their definitions, and then used the words in sentences on the same page.  Again, each chapter’s words began on a new page.  Doing it this way also made it easy for students to study when there were tests about the novel.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Vocabulary section in 5th grader's writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
I was lucky to have a school administration that supplied these notebooks to the teachers.  They came in packs of twelve and I always ordered a few packs every year.  For teachers who aren’t as fortunate and have to purchase their own supplies, I did a quick search and found these sources of similar notebooks:
a) Roaring Spring Paper Stitched Cover 20 Sheet Composition Book, 67 cents per notebook, at ReStockIt
b) Roaring Spring Tape Bound Composition Notebook, with 48 sheets, $1.59 per notebook, at Office Depot/Office Max

I hope this gives you a new idea for what to use as a writing journal.  Thanks for hopping onto my blog posts these past several weeks.  I wish everyone the best as the new school year gets underway in the U.S. or continued smooth teaching everywhere else!


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