Theoretically, I’d love for my students to write in their journals every day. Does that happen? Of course not! There is homework to review, questions to answer, notices to collect, notices to hand out, stories to read, lunches to find, pencils to sharpen, old assignments to finish, writing workshops to run, something called “standardized tests” to review for… the list goes on-and-on. Since our time as teachers is so limited, I try to keep journals short—more like exercises than complete stories or essays—and connected to the specific writing skill that I’m focusing on that week. From now on, every month I’ll post some journal prompts I use to help students work on a particular skill.
This month’s winner: POINT-OF-VIEW.
I feel like the idea that you are writing from someone else’s perspective is a big leap for my students to make. Far too often they write from outside the story, as a kind of omniscient summation: “The children are playing soccer. The boy kicks the ball. A dog runs onto the field and tries to steal the ball.” What I really want them to do is choose a perspective and stick to it. Once they do that, a lot of the other problems that plague their writing seem to fall into place.
Here are some prompts I have given in the past. I emphasize to my students that a work of fiction is kind of like a personal narrative (a type of writing they understand very well) except that instead of you seeing the world, it’s an imaginary person.
Here are some sample journal prompts to help with that concept:
Write about a time you opened a present you really loved.
Write about the time Nathan Dilkes opened a present he really loved. Be sure to use his thoughts in your writing.
Write about the time Kelly McFaze opened a present—but it wasn’t what she wanted. Be sure to use her thoughts in your writing.
Who are you more like, Nathan or Kelly? Why?
I like to link journal prompts into weekly themes. This seems to cut down on the amount of time I need to explain the assignment, which of course gives the kids more time to write! Also, the journal assignments themselves become a type of story, with each day being a new chapter. The kids really dig it.
Another type of point-of-view journal set I like to do is taking one event and skipping around from perspective-to-perspective. It’s the Rashomon theory of journaling…
Write about a sporting event that you attended.
Keith Baker is dragged to the same sporting event you attended, but he really does not want to be there. Write about the event from his perspective.
Shannon Lemmings has been waiting to go to this sporting event for months! She is so excited! Write about the event from her perspective.
Alice Hobart is five years old, and she has never been to a sporting event. She doesn’t understand what’s going on! Write about the event from her perspective.
Write about the sporting event from the perspective of one of the athletes on the field (or court, or ice, etc.).
Those are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can come up with even more!