Journal Topics for Writing Class

As a writing teacher, I love having my students write in a journal for the first 5 minutes of class. It establishes a routine of how we will begin class each time and also gets them in the habit of writing. I find that the only time most students write is for formal assignments. Journal writing can help them experience writing their feelings and thoughts on papers, knowing there is no right or wrong answer and knowing that their grammar won’t be corrected. I have my students buy a composition notebook and only use it for journaling. I collect it every Wednesday (for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class) and give 2 points for every journal entry completed. They can not make up journals once I have collected them for the week. (This saves me from grading 30 journal entries for each student at the end of the semester!) This is an easy yet useful way to get points. It usually ends up to be about 70 points at the end of the semester.  I also make it a response journal. They write and I respond. It’s usually just 1 sentence asking a question or making a comment, but they know that I read it and care about what they write. Sometimes it creates whole conversations and really helps you to learn about your students. I actually enjoy grading these! So that’s how I utilize the journal writing process in my classroom.

Here are some topics I use for my freshman composition class, but they can also work for ESL writing classes, who would also benefit very much from journal writing:

– Why is writing important?  (this is always my first  AND last  journal topic)

-What is your biggest fear?

– What is your  favorite childhood memory?

-What is the most appealing non-physical quality of the opposite sex?

– What is one thing you would change about your personality?

-What is one thing you wouldn’t change about your personality?

– What is the one country you would love to travel to and why?

– Do we depend on technology too much?

– If you were stranded in a foreign country with no money, what would you do?

– Is lying ever ok?

– Do you believe in ghosts?

– Tell about a time when you got undeserved criticism.

-Does racism exist today?

– If you could live in a different time period, which time would you choose and why?

– Explain why attitude is everything.

– What do you use to make a first impression of someone?

– What’s something really good that has happened to you lately?

– Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

– What is your life motto?

– If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

– Tell me about your hometown.

– What makes a person dependable?

– How have you changed since coming to college?

– If you could go back in time and meet any person, who would it be and why?

– If you had to live outside your home country for a year, where would it be and why?

– Describe the most interesting person in your family.

– Describe a funny moment in your life.

–  How does the media affect our body image?

-How do smart phones affect relationships negatively?

– Do you think the phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a good way to live?

– What do you think about immigration to the US?

– What was your most embarrassing moment?

 

ESL students usually take longer to write a journal entry. They may take 10-15 minutes. So, if you don’t want to spend that much class time on it, you may want them to do a complete the sentence activity. I write this on the board at the beginning of class, and they can either write about it or think about it (usually they choose to write), and then we discuss it, which incorporates the speaking aspect of course. It usually takes 5-7 minutes total. They key is that they only have to complete the one sentence.  Here are some ideas for complete the sentence:

– I get angry when…

– Last summer…

-My parents…

– In high school…

– When I was a child…

– I am really looking forward to…

– My favorite vacation was…

– When I have free time…

– I get stressed when…

– I think people should…

– I see my greatest weakness as…

-I see my greatest strength as…

– Being a friend means…

– I feel lonely when…

– I am most talented at…

– My favorite hobby is…

I hope these were helpful. If you have any journal topics you have used that you found to be quite successful, please share! And, as always, please share via social media if you have some teacher friends you think could benefit from reading this.

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How I Made my Students Really Mad

This semester, I am back to teaching a composition course for college freshmen. Apart from learning in-depth about research writing, we also read the play A Raisin in the Sun in College Writing II.  This play took stage in 1959, and it focused on an African American family in Chicago. It showed what life was like for blacks in the 50’s and 60’s. I wanted my students to know a little more about the civil rights movement and also the discrimination and segregation of this time period in American history.

To begin the lesson, I asked everyone with blue or green eyes to sit on the left side of the room and everyone with brown eyes to sit on the right side of the room. They were expecting a quiz on the introduction to the book, so they were very confused about what I was doing. I explained that instead of a quiz, we would be working on something else for which they would receive points. I gave the blue/green eyed students a page copied from the dictionary and told them they had to copy it letter-for-letter, word-for-word. They all glared at me with a look that seemed to say -Uh, are you serious? The brown-eyed students seemed scared to get their assignment next. However, they were relieved when I told them they would be working on a word search puzzle about pizza. As they were working, I told them to be sure and find the word pepperoni. I went over to the other side of the room and told that students that they better finish the whole page. I let this go on for about 3 minutes, then I finally allowed them to stop. I asked them how they felt knowing that the other half of the room was working on a different assignment. The light-eyed group said they felt angry at me and at the other group of students. They said they wondered what they did to deserve the terrible assignment. The brown-eyed group said they felt badly but not badly enough to exchange assignments with anyone or to even ask questions about why the assignments were different. I did have one blue-eyed guy ask me why he had to do the dictionary assignment and not the pizza one. It all worked perfectly. I asked my students to relate their feelings and the way I treated them to how Africa-Americans felt in the past. I think it really hit home with them and made a good point.

I then went on to show 2 YouTube videos. This first video really makes me emotional. I really can’t believe this happened so recently in my own country. I can’t fathom why people thought they were better solely based on their skin color. This video is a general overview of everything that happened. It’s about 5 minutes long.

The second video is about Bull Connor, who greatly influenced the civil rights movement, because of the terrible things he allowed to happen in Birmingham, Alabama while he was the commissioner of public safety for the city. It’s about 10 minutes long and really worth the watch.

After the activity, the videos, and a discussion, I really felt my students were ready to read A Raisin in the Sun and fully understand the context and the time period. I hope that no matter the grade level, this recap of my lesson might be helpful for you to teach about the civil rights movement, especially since it is black history month. Share with me some ideas you’ve used to teach this same topic.

Why Write? Because You Can Read Your Old Diaries Later

“Well, I don’t have as much to write as I used to, but in my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are, that there’s- that the process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”

Barack Obama, Time Magazine

It’s like the president picked those words right out of my brain to describe why I think writing is important. When I teach college composition to freshmen, I spend the first few classes trying to convince them why writing is important and why they should hone their skills. So many people automatically say they hate writing, and that makes me so sad!

However, people don’t realize how much they write in their every day lives. When you put up your Facebook status, you’re writing. When you write an e-mail to your teacher or to your boss, you’re writing. When you send a text to that guy you like, you’re writing. Don’t you want to be able to get your point across well?

Besides from all the academic and professional reasons to write, there are so many personal reasons to put your pen to paper. People don’t write enough for themselves. Like Obama said, it really can help you clarify your thoughts, see what you truly believe, and assist you in figuring out a problem or situation. I know when I have a problem, writing about it helps me decipher a solution. I do it now, and I did it when I was younger.

In fact, I’ve found some old diaries that I used to keep in middle school. And boy oh boy are they amusing to read now! But, at the time, I was really trying to think things through and just record my feelings. So now, for your entertainment, I’ll share a few segments of entries. No making fun though!

“I went to the movies with Amy to see Spice World. We saw the boys from John’s birthday party and talked to them!”

“Today was our school dance. Scott asked me to dance with him. I don’t like him, but I danced with him anyway. But he stepped on my toes a lot! Ouch! Scott also wanted me to get my picture made with him (Wow. I was a southern child getting my picture “made”, huh?), but I didn’t.”

Do you notice a theme that I mostly wrote about boys? Haha. And I also discovered the first time I had a friendship with Chinese people.

“We have 3 new people in our school, and they are from China. Bin, Ling, and Xiu. They are so cool, and they are my friends!”

And here’s what the ol’ diary looks like.

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I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I did. Now go write something!