Excerpted from Writing Workshop Survival Kit.
Writing journals contain an author's ideas, questions, visions, dreams, and anything in between. Journals are usually written in the first person and may explore a variety of topics. Sometimes the topics may be personal; sometimes they may be general. Journals permit students to experiment with new writing forms, help establish the habit of writing, and enable students to witness their growth as writers. Journals also become repositories of ideas for writing.
As the teacher, you must decide on the rules regarding journals. Will they be private? Will you look at them? Will they be shared? And if they will, with whom? Once set, these rules should never be violated. If they are, trust will be undermined, and some students may become reluctant to write. You may wish to hand out the Writing Journal Guidelines for Students and discuss its points in a mini-lesson.
Review the journals of students periodically. This allows you the opportunity to respond to their writing and helps ensure that all students write in their journals regularly. While some teachers prefer to collect the journals of their students at set intervals every two weeks, for example others prefer to read a few from each class two or three times a week.
To assure students of their privacy, you may instruct them to fold down any pages of their journals that they do not want you to read. In this way students feel free to include personal thoughts in their journals. However, you should tell them that if you read something in a journal that leads you to believe someone is in danger, you are obligated to report it.
While you should not grade or correct the writing in journals only finished pieces should be used for grading you should comment on your students' writing. Offer suggestions, constructive remarks, questions, and encouragement whenever possible. Sometimes students will respond to the teacher's comments, and they and the teacher will carry on a correspondence through the journals.
One of the biggest problems with writing journals is that some students use them simply as a way to record the day's events. They slip into the routine of writing diary entries without reflection or real purpose. You can reduce this by encouraging your students to write about a variety of topics and take what they feel are the better entries and develop them into finished pieces.
Journals offer students the opportunity to reflect on their world and expand their awareness of what is happening in their lives. For many students journals become a rich source of ideas for writing.