This blog post will give you a link to some free printables and explain how I managed to…
- replace the chorus of groans with loud cheers and excitement about writing
- solve the problem of what to do with early finishers
- easily document their progress as writers over the course of the school year
I was so tired of hearing a collective groan from my students when it was time for writing. The would happily complete our Paragraph of the Week Activities for both Narrative and Opinion/Persuasive Paragraphs. Not only did they routinely write those with enthusiasm, they were so proud to see the obvious growth in their writing skills when they compared recent Paragraph of the Week projects to the ones from earlier in the year. Those are great. The kids love them and I LOVE them because…
- They require absolutely no prep other than photocopying.
- They make it super simple for me to provide a solid framework for paragraph writing on a consistent basis.
- I am able to save time and simplify my life by having an ENTIRE YEAR of materials for our writing block and for homework ready to go.
- Parents love the familiarity and report that it makes it so much easier for them to help their child at home because the expectations are clear and the assignments are so routine.
- Paragraph of the Week provides the consistency children need to succeed as well as a designated space to offer constructive feedback the students use as goals for the next week.
- Most importantly, in my 17 years in the classroom, I have never seen students make as much progress as writers as I did once I started using the Paragraph of the Week format.
Needless to say, that part of writing in my classroom went very well. They also bloomed as writers each time we completed one of the four seasonal writing projects. (Sidenote: The Seasonal Writing Portfolio is truly one of my most favorite annual projects as it genuinely documents their writing progress, looks great displayed on our bulletin board throughout the year, and ends up being one of the projects that parents save forever and ever. You can learn more about those by reading my blog post titled, Seasonal Writing Projects).
Where I saw the struggle, frustration, and dislike for writing emerge from my students was when they were expected to write on their own in a journal or writer’s notebook. Unfortunately, this was DAILY so I needed to find a solution.
Sure I always had 2 or 3 eager writers, but overall their writer’s notebooks were a cause of stress and aggravation…for all of us.
Knowing how well they did with Paragraph of the Week, it seemed the problem for many wasn’t the process of writing, but rather getting started and coming up with quality topics and ideas to write about.
One thing that helped tremendously was an activity we did at the start of each new school year which had the students brainstorm a list of topics to keep in their writer’s notebook. This was a great resource for them throughout the year, served me well as part of my emergency sub plans, and reinforced the concept of writing about “small seeds” or “tiny ideas.”
However, the REAL SOLUTION to the PROBLEM OF RELUCTANT WRITERS came when I began creating Monthly Writing Prompts and Journals. Let me explain…
Back in theday, I used to have my students do journal writing, but found that many struggled with coming up a topic. Most kids would write the same genre of story in their journals (often starting with “Last night…”) over and over. I decided to do something a wee bit more structured.
Each year we began by making a personalized Writer’s Notebook (inspired by the About Me collage in the book, Judy Moody) and collected ideas in the Writer’s Idea Bank mentioned above to use throughout the year when journaling. They always had the option of selecting a topic of their own, but the idea bank was a resource for those who struggled with ideas. While that solved the “I don’t know what to write about” problem, I observed many kids still really struggled with how to get started.
Once they had that initial sentence on paper they were off and running, but that blank page was often intimidating.
That’s why I created a writing center with writing prompt task cards. The first set I made was for the month of October to capitalize on their love of all things Halloween and the intrinsic motivation it brings.
I was excited to introduce them to my class, but was not prepared for the positive impact they had on writing in our classroom almost immediately.
By offering them task cards with prompts and a collection of thematic paper for them to write on, they magically went from dreading writing to choosing to do it during free time and indoor recess. They were seriously more enthusiastic about writing than I’ve ever seen.
It was such a hit, I made sets for all other months in the year as well.
Here’s why they work…
Kids love seasonal and thematic activities. They are always much more motivated by topics that interest them.Changing the journals and prompts monthly eliminates the boredom that comes with the “same old same old” and keeps their interest level high. No lie, my kids actually cheered at the start of the month when the new prompts were revealed. They would actually beg me at dismissal on the last day of each month to let them have a sneak peekat the new month’s packet. I couldn’t believe we went from a chorus of groans to hooting and hollering in a joyous way when it came to writing.
The monthly journals drive my instruction. While I don’t formally correct their work, I use them to assess their writing skills and look for areas where improvement is needed. This information is used to plan whole-class minilessons at the start of writer’s workshop and also allows me to form small groups for guided instruction on specific skills.
The journals provide lots of content to discuss during 1:1 writing conferences with each individual student. During our conferences, we review their writing samples, talk about their previous goals, look for examples of how they’ve applied the skills we’ve been working on and set new goals. Having these journals has allowed them to really see how much they are improving and motivates them to do even more.
The monthly journals are another easy, yet an absolutely wonderful way to show how much gain a child has made as a writer throughout the course of the school year. They are perfect for sharing with families during parent-teacher conferences and are always a hit during our spring open house.
Using this resource makes it very easy to get your students to regularly practice different types of writing. Each monthly packet includes creative writing story starters, narrative writing prompts, opinion and persuasive prompts, and even a collection of timely informational writing topics they can research and write about.
The monthly writing journals also helped end the problem of early finishers. No longer did my students ask, “I’m done. What should I do now?” No longer did I need to prepare extra work for students who finished their other assignments quickly. They knew that when their work was complete they had two choices.
- read a book or
- write in their monthly journals
Planning for a substitute teacher suddenly became a whole lot easier. I never needed to find, prep, and write detailed instructions for a guest teacher to do in my absence anymore. Let’s face it, that never goes well anyway. In my FREE Comprehensive Guide to Planning for a Substitute Teacher, I detail how to be ready for a sub every single morning (so sick days can be spent at home where you should be and not suffering through the day because it is easier than being out). With these journals as part of our routine, my sub plans simply include extended journal writing. Easy for me. Easy for the sub. Valuable for the kids.
This resource is SO QUICK and EASY for you to prepare for student use. In fact, the only prep needed makes a great job for parent volunteers or classroom aides because it is simple.
I’ve used them two ways:
The first is as task cards in a writing center. I printed and cut out the cards and displayed them for the students to pick from and take to their seat.
The second was to simply copy the following for each student in a 3-hole punched, stapled booklet:
- a monthly cover
- a copy of each of the four types of writing prompt pages
- multiple copies of the thematic writing paper
The latter option allowed for the journals to be kept at their seats and accessible at any time. It also gave the students a place to check off which prompts they had completed and track that they had included a variety of genres at a glance.
I personally like using a combination of the two. Having a monthly display where students can physically get up, shuffle prompts, etc was very exciting and motivating to them while still having the designated journal to write in and check off the prompts used allowed for the above benefits too.
I highly suggest you create monthly writing journals to use with your students. Each of my monthly packets includes writing prompt task cards, differentiated thematic writing paper, and the mini-posters I used to make the monthly booklets. They are available by the month or in a yearlong bundle.
I have created a collection of FREE printable monthly thematic journal covers that can be used with or without my prompt packets.
Please feel free to share this free product with any teacher or homeschool family that you think will enjoy them!