Journal writing typically involves some type of spiral bound notebook, a folder with paper clasped inside, or a handful of paper stapled together to make a book. Journal writing is not random sheets of paper that are kept in various places or sent home at the end of each day.
To get started, you will want to consider what type of journals you will use, how you will store them so that your students can access them easily and independently, and what types of writing tools you will provide your students.
Preschoolers need wide open spaces for writing, therefore I suggest using unlined paper rather than any type of lined paper, even large lined or spaced paper.
Years ago, I switched from having my students use pencils to write with to having them use markers. When using pencils, I found that my students spent more time erasing and correcting their writing rather than just writing and drawing. Crayons are another good writing tool option and tend to be less messy than markers.
How to Begin
You will have to guide your preschoolers through the journal writing process. This means that you will have to model (demonstrate not tell) every aspect of the process. You will have to show students how to turn to the next page without skipping pages, you will have to demonstrate how to choose a topic by thinking out loud, and you will have to model how to draw a picture, add detail, and sound out words. Morning message, labeling the classroom, predictable charts, taking dictation, making lists, and writing class letters are just a few ways to use shared and interactive writing to model the process for your students.
There are a variety of ways students can write each day including whole group charting, working in the writing center, making a class book page, and journaling. You will want to provide your students with a variety of writing experiences, so you may not have them journal everyday, but you will want to aim for journal writing at least 3 days each week. In the beginning, you may want to start with about 10 minutes of journaling and over the year gradually work up to 15-20 minutes as you see that your students are ready.
Young writers can benefit from dictation. Students draw a picture, tell you about their picture, and you write down their words for them. For your youngest preschoolers, you may want to simply label their pictures for them. Older preschoolers might dictate whole or multiple sentences that tell a simple story.
Taking dictation models how to stretch out sounds and write words, show the connection between letter sounds and letters, and demonstrate conventions of print such as capitalization and punctuation.
When writing on a child's work you might want to consider asking for his/her permission, writing his/her words on the back of his/her work, or using post-its to record his/her thoughts and ideas.
What Happens During Journal Time
Guide your students by modeling how to draw a picture, write a sentence, label a picture, etc. in your own journal.
Students can draw a picture, tell you about their picture, and you can write down the child's words for them. Rather than asking a student what they drew, try a more open ended response such as tell me about your drawing.
Give students the chance to write freely without rules or parameters. Journal writing time should be open ended rather than full of prompts such as "I like to..." or "I like to eat...", etc. Giving students a writing prompt every day is like choosing their center for them and forcing them to go somewhere they do not want to work.
Journaling is not a time for copying letters over and over again, copying words off a board, handwriting practice, or tracing. Students may choose to use words off the letter wall for labeling or writing, but they should not be given set words to copy into their journal. When the teacher takes dictation, she does the writing. The student does not go back and trace over the letters and words. Through the dictation itself, you model print conventions, phonemic awareness skills, and phonics. When students are ready to make their own lines, marks, scribbles, and letters on a page, it should be their own writing, not tracing your writing. Tracing letters offers no value to a young child. It does not require them to think about the letter, its formation, or direction.
How Do You Encourage Reluctant Writers
Model how to choose a topic, draw a picture, and write.
Encourage students to start with a picture and to add details to it. This can spark a story or topic for writing.
Offer drawing and writing prompts as needed. For example: If a student is having trouble drawing something they really want to draw, then show them how to draw it. I used to teach my students to draw using basic shapes. I also made sketches on post-it notes for them to look it. Rather than give specific writing prompts, ask students questions about things they have done recently, parts of the school day, extra-curricular activities they are in, etc. This line of questioning may prompt a topic for writing about. Some teachers provide students with journal writing idea charts. These are great if they are used as a choice rather than used for dictating what students must write about.
Use encouraging positive words not matter what a student's writing looks like. It is very important to refer to their work as "writing". Students need to see themselves as writers in order to branch out and take risks in what they are doing. Build on where each student is and recognize that journal writing will look different for each of your students because they will all be at a different level of development.
Appreciate where your students are. Young children develop at different rates, so their writing will not all look the same. Some of your students will be in the pre-writing stage, meaning their "writing" looks a lot like scribbling. This is ok. Call it "writing" and praise them for their work.
Children who cannot name many letters or sounds tend to be hesitant to write words they cannot spell. Spend time working with these students in small group on their letters and sounds. Modeling and dictation are extremely important for these students.
For children who struggle with their handwriting, provide them with center and small group activities that will strengthen their fine motor skills. Some examples include: working with play doh, stacking small objects, lacing beads, using tweezers to pinch and move objects, playing games that involve pinching clothespins, and cutting paper. You can also have students write using a variety of materials such as shaving cream, sidewalk chalk, on dry erase boards, and in sand.
This idea came from the blog Learning to Play. She has several Fine Motor Friday posts. You can check out her post about this activity here.
So often sharing is eliminated from the journal writing process because of time constraints. However, this is a key piece to growing writers. Sharing out builds student confidence, shows off good student models, and encourages students to branch out and try other things their classmates are doing.