A few months back I found myself counting the notebooks and diaries I had received in 2013 alone. They were given to me by my near and dear ones, assuming I would put them into good use, owing to the fact that I love writing. Including the two that I had bought for myself, the total was nine. Embarrassing thing though, was that, all the notebooks-except one- were empty. It was high time I did something about those notebooks. To put them to good use, I started to reflect on my days and jot them down on those notebooks. Not only did I put those notebooks into good use, I even established a writing habit: the one that helped not only me but would eventually help my students as well. In this article, I am going to talk about how journal writing helped me and my students become more expressive and creative in our writing. Further on, I will discuss why I think teachers need to implement this technique to improve students’ writing skill.
I teach in a secondary school and the students I was teaching were not good at writing creatively. We know teaching is a dynamic process and we learn as we teach. When things do not go as you plan, you have to look for alternatives. And thus I looked around for different approaches that might help my students. As I guided and taught them a thing or two about writing, I found that they did write but they were not enthusiastic about it. And, improving their overall language skills was another matter. That’s when I thought about journal writing, as it was helping me as well in my writing.
I hence proposed the students a journal writing project. The requirement was simple – write down about your day, every day. The students were under no restrictions except to write daily. They were free to write whatever they liked, however they liked and write how much long they wanted to. My condition was I would check their work initially to provide feedback and when it would be evident that they are able to do it on their own, I would read their work only if they wanted me to.
The initial entries included what they did at certain time that day. Now as a reader that’s hardly something that excites. I suggested them to drop the conventional diary writing style they had acquired and to focus on only one important moment or event of the day. To break established habit is quite difficult and it was really hard for them to change their habit yet with persistence and practice they were able to achieve this.
The next step was to help them describe their day in terms of their senses. We had a class specially focused on five senses. At first, the students were given a magazine cutout of a beautiful scenery. They had to imagine themselves in that particular place and describe it in term as of sight, smell, sound, taste and feeling. This proved to be a useful exercise which helped the students to be expressive about their feelings.
Following the example of my own teacher, I asked them to be personal in their journal writing. I told them to be reflective and that their writing needed to mirror their individual self. Even though I had told them I wouldn’t read their entry if they didn’t want to give it to me, they insisted I read it and provide feedback. Following a month or so the writings they produced went through some transformation but there were still some exceptions. Once, on reading the entry of a class, I saw that everyone had written about the same event that had happened the previous day. Though the event was same, the perspective differed with different entries. With the permission of the class, the students presented the entries and we held a discussion on how each of them had different perspectives. This proved to be an interesting topic for discussion and by the end of the lesson students were aware of the difference and had a new understanding.
I would be lying if I said that journal writing transformed each and every student’s writing skill. Some of the students continued to produce uninspired entries. No doubt, they had followed my instructions yet their entries lacked life as they had detached themselves from their entry. But I asked them to continue writing to establish the habit. Once I found an approach of a student quite innovative and interesting; and with her permission, I shared it with others as well. She had described a typical winter morning in such a way it seemed as if everything was gloomy and dreary. Then her writing moved on to describe a transformation: as the fog cleared she described how she could see things clearly which only moments before, seemed blocked. This opened a new dynamics for others. They started to experiment different forms as there weren’t any particular restriction on how to write. Some of the entries that were produced were in the form of verse, drawings, haikus etc.
This writing project was a stepping stone for me as a teacher and for my students as writers. We did not have a separate time allocated for this writing class. As the work progressed I guided, taught and provided feedback to them within the regular classes and sometimes during break time. Time and again I shared my entries with them and that helped them.
Journal writing can be a special tool for your students to improve their writing skills; one that doesn’t take much resource and time. There is a high chance of this turning into a habit for life. It encourages them to reflect on certain element of their day and examine it. It awakens the writer in them and as is the nature of humans they look for ways to be more creative with it. This even helped my students produce poems and stories. It became a medium to share their views, ideas, opinion and feelings. The continuous writing helped them to be descriptive and expressive in their other writings as well.
Not only this opened a new way of understanding for my students, it also helped me to develop myself as a teacher. The problem had been bugging me for a long time and it encouraged me to look for ways. I had to do something. My personal experience, few suggestions from my teacher and inspiration from a Hollywood flick helped me conceptualize this project and few adjustments along the way helped this journey to be smoother.
M.Ed. ELT, Second Semester