Journals Through the Year

Say goodbye to "bell work" and hello to independent writing time!  

If you walk into my classroom right when the bell rings, you will see a class full of quiet students writing in their journals. Not once do I have to say "get out your journal" or "please start writing". My students arrive at school, hang up their backpacks and they pull their journals out from their desk. There's not explaining, no questions, and it's eerily quiet.  How did I get them to be this wayyyy?

First, you'll want to set up your writing journals. You'll want to pick out a cover to use (I've created 16 different varieties) and you'll want to pick how many lines you want to start out the year. These journals can be changed out each month or however often you want!

Here is the journal cover that I picked for the beginning of the year:

They never ask me what they should write about because I teach them how to come up with topics on their own. Now... it didn't start that way, of course. They make HUGE progress throughout the year. They go from one sentence to 5+ sentences by the end of first grade! Many of my students like to use two whole pages to write one journal entry. :)

I teach 1st grade so on the first day of school my students walk in and I already have a sentence stem on the board that they will copy down in their journal. Then, there is a blank at the end of the sentence that they have to fill in their own word. After they copy the sentence stem, they sound out their word, draw a picture, color and then bring their journal up to me. I will check it off. Depending on the student, I will circle a mistake or two that I'd like them to fix and bring back to me. I basically have 3 types of writers: Emerging, Developing, and Advancing. I obviously expect more from my advancing writers than I do my emerging. It's up to you what you decide to conference with them about.

When they finish and get their beloved smiley face on their journal, they will do a fast finisher (read a book, puzzle, etc.).

I only tell my students what to write about for the first 9 days of school. After that, they pick their own topic or write about what they did yesterday (that's their go-to if they "can't think of anything")

Day 1: I like to eat_____.
Day 2: My favorite color is _____.
Day 3: My favorite animal is a ____.
Day 4: I like to drink______.
Day 5: I am scared of_______.
Day 6: I am not scared of _____.
Day 7: My favorite movie is ______.
Day 8: At school I like to _____. (a little more open ended)
Day 9: I like to_____ because _________. (we add the word because)
Day 10:  WRITE ANYTHING! (Sometimes this comes a few days later. It just depends on the grade you teach and your class.)

At day 10, I teach my students that they can write about whatever they want in their journals and to write about different things each day. I only require 1 sentence at the beginning of the year to get them adjusted. If they "can't think of anything", they write about what they did yesterday (or...If you're desperate, you can see the bottom of this post for some prompt ideas).

1st Grade (can be adapted and differentiated based on each student):
August/September- 1 sentence
October/November- 2 sentences
December/January- 3 sentences
February/March-4 sentences
April/May- 5 sentences
{This journal time is separate from my "writer's workshop" time}

This is what we do every day and it takes 30 minutes:

Starting in January, I give my students a writing checklist. As their writing starts to develop, they tend to make a few more simple mistakes and I want them to check their work before saying it's finished!  They are very familiar with each part of the checklist because we've been working on these all year and they've been hung up on the board (and I refer to them frequently)!
After they finish their journal, they read their own journal to themselves and use a dry-erase marker (the checklists are laminated) and they check off to make sure they meet the expectations.

Here are the posters I have hanging so when we switch over to the checklist they know exactly what to look for:

The progress they make is amazing!

From the first week of school:

Towards the end of the year:

You can snag everything I talked about in this post in my Journal Through the Year Pack! This pack would also work great with Work on Writing in Daily 5.

For those of you that REALLY want journal prompts (although I do not use them in my classroom), I've included over 150 picture prompts! You can print them and make them into booklets of ideas or you can cut them out and make picture prompt cards. I've also included a black/white version is you're low on the colored ink like I am. #printallthethings


Jennifer said...

This looks fantastic!!

The First Grade Dream

She (Sprinkle Teaching Magic) said...

Cute cutie cute! Love the lights boarder for December.

Sprinkle Teaching Magic

Katie said...

Writing is definitely one of the areas I need to improve with my teaching next year; journals are a great idea! I don't know if I could survive 24 more days...... eek! HaHa

Dirty Hands and Lesson Plans

Lisa R. said...

I have to say I do feel sorry for you! Hang in there!! I love your journal pack. It looks great!!

Learning Is Something to Treasure

EveryNewBeginning said...

Love the writing ideas! We just got out of school (thank goodness!). Can't imagine having that many days left!

Check out my new blog w/ a $25 gc giveaway to target:

Erica Bohrer said...

Can you tell I spend my Friday nights partying, too?

Very cute journals!

SiskiyouSue said...

Today was my last day!!! Hurray! Honestly I did not expect to feel this way because it has been such a nice year, but in after last weekend's graduation the rest of the kids could hardly stand to be in school... It's rainy and cold and does not seem much like summer, but I should be able to enjoy my craft room lots. Sorry you have to wait a bit more, but it'll be worth it, and you can feel sorry for me when we start up again on Aug. 20.

Miss Kindergarten said...

HAHA!! I'm actually at a party (very rare!) but I had to come check these out! 24!!! That's great! Way closer than 40! Lol. Love you soul sista!!!

Annie Moffatt said...

These look AWESOME, Rachelle! And YES...I do feel sorry for you!! 24 days is a LOT!! Hugs to you sweet friend!

Eileen Griffin said...

These look great! They are on my wish list! I have 3 weeks left with my kiddos and God knows I love my work, but I am ready for summer.
Eileen Griffin
Second Grade Sunshine

Amanda said...

You are amazing, sweet friend! This looks absolutely fabulous! :)

Jessica Ann Stanford said...

Looks amaaaaaaaaaaaazing! and I do feel sorry for you! but I'll be working this summer for our readiness program, so you can feel sorry for me then hehe

Jessica Stanford
Mrs. Stanford's Class Blog is Having a Giveaway!
My TpT Store 20% Sale

Anonymous said...

I feel you!! School goes until the 21st of June over here!!

Mrs. G said...

I have a question for you! You said you journal for 30 minutes. Does it take them the whole 30 minutes to write 2-10 sentences and draw the pictures?

Michelle Hudgeons said...

Please share your secret on how you get them motivated for journal writing!!!
These will definitely be on my wish list for next year!
Smitten With First
is having a giveaway!!

Miss Trayers said...

I also love seeing the growth the kiddos can make. I sit down with them and we reflect on how they wrote in the beginning and their writing now. They literally say "I didn't write that!" when they look at September. They've just come so far!


Rachelle said...

@Mrs. G-

At the beginning of the year, it takes them about 15 minutes! If they are a fast finisher, they get out a marker board and practice writing their spelling words.

When they are finished, they bring me their journal and read it to me. I find something in their journal that they need to work on {punctuation, sight words, etc}, I circle it, and they go and fix it. They come back up and if it's fixed, they get a smiley face. They lloooooovvveeee reading their journals to me! Then, we we are all done, I pick out a few students to share their journals with the class. It's very rewarding! :)

Right now, it takes them the full 30 minutes to finish up their journals! Writing 6-10 sentences in great handwriting with a picture that has at least 6 colors, takes some time. They even self-edit their journals before they bring them up and they can have a friend read it to make sure it makes sense. And if they finish early, they write their spelling words.

Traci Clausen said...

I am feeling sorry for you.

So sorry.

Hang in there.

The journals are fabulous. I love that you have your kiddos write everyday!
❤Dragonflies in First ❤

Erin Eberhart said...

I love this unit. YOU seriously are so inspiring and on top of it! I cannot believe you have that many days left of school. I thought us ending at the end of May was bad! Hang in there...sending big hugs your way! Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful creativity!
Eberhart’s Explorers

Sallie Neal said...

Yes, definitely tell yes how you get them motivated to write in their journals?!?!? When we do writing activities there is no problem, but journal writing is not their favorite activity. I use notebooks (because we are allowed only so much paper a year!)and I write a prompt. I'd like to get input from other teachers on how they motivate their kids to do journals!

Penny Messick said...

I love your blog and I'm your newest follower! I have chosen your blog to receive the One Lovely Blog award. I would be honored if you would visit my blog to check out the details! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Looks great- the journals are saved in my wishlist at TPT. I'll definitely be buying them & start using them at the beginning of the year. I haven't bought them yet because we only have 3 1/2 days this week :-) Sorry you have so long!

Kinder Fun said...

HOW CUTE!! L>>O>>V>>E!!

Claire said...

LOVE the journal prompt idea!! I was one of those kids who never knew what to write about, and it always bummed me out... how great to have somewhere for those kids to start!

I love your blog, btw. :)

Your Newest Follower,

Live, Laugh, Love, Teach

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