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Need A Quick Way To Calm Morning Chaos? Try Journal Writing

journal writing teaching strategies

If your mornings begin with chaos, try this simple bell ringer activity with Grade 1, 2, or 3 students. It's a great addition to your morning routine.

Listening to the hum of the lights, I look around and smile. Kids writing. Teacher happy. It’s going to be a great day. 

From Morning Chaos ...

Mornings can be chaotic when kids first enter your classroom. Students talking, handing you notes, telling you how their Dad shot a skunk last night … in his underwear. Lol! True story!

Some mornings I would start counting down the minutes to lunch … while waiting for second bell to ring.

That was BEFORE I stumbled upon using journal writing as my bell ringer activity.

I went from chaos and noise ... and a faint pounding behind my eyes … to greeting kids at the door with a smile on my face as they streamed into our classroom. I then watched as they put their agendas on the back counter and GASP! sat down and started writing … quietly.

Bell Ringer Activity In Three Simple Steps

Using journals as a bell ringer activity doesn’t happen overnight but it’s easier than you might think. To establish this routine, you need to set your kids up for success. 

All it takes is three simple steps:

  1. Demonstrate the Process
  2. Set Expectations
  3. Provide Fun Writing Prompts

Step 1: Demonstrate the Process

Model a Journal Entry

Begin by showing students what you want the journal writing process to look and sound like. 

Write a journal entry on your white board. Share something about your life that kids will want to follow along and read.

An example:

 "My knees were shaking because I was sooooo nervous. I was getting ready to swim with dolphins. It was my turn to grab the fin. My teeth started to chatter as I reached for the fin. All of a sudden I was gliding through the water. I couldn't stop smiling. It was the COOLEST experience of my life!”

Continue writing your entry for 3 to 5 minutes. Keep the time frame short.

As you’re writing, silently model different strategies. 

  • Show how you don’t let spelling stop you. Pause on a word, think about it, and then underline it. (When you’re finished writing you can discuss why you added the underline - spoiler alert: it's because you're unsure of the spelling.)
  • Purposely spell a word or two wrong but keep writing and don’t acknowledge the misspellings.
  • Leave out a few capital letters.
  • Omit a couple punctuation marks.

It’s okay if students notice. 

I’ve had kids blurt out, “You forgot a period or you spelled that word wrong.”

Don’t stop. Keep writing and reply with something like, “Can’t stop my groove … gotta keep going.”

When you’re done, thank the student for recognizing the punctuation omission.

Take advantage of this “teachable moment” and talk about how the goal of journal writing is to write. Tell your kids you want them to focus on the content of their writing and not worry about the other stuff.

That’s what editing and revising are for.

Tell kids not to worry about getting writing perfect. Getting words down on the page is the goal.

Discuss The Process

After you’re finished your journal entry, discuss your process.

Get your kids to tell you what they noticed about your writing behavior. 

If needed, ask questions to get them started: 

  • Did I wander around the classroom and start visiting with someone? 
  • Did I keep writing the whole time?
  • Did I get side-tracked?

Discuss The Content

Discuss the content and mechanics of your writing.

What did your kids notice?

Give them the opportunity to share their ideas and then ask them questions (if needed):

  • Did my words make you want you to read more?
  • Did I stop to look up how to spell words?
  • Did I spell all the words correctly?
  • Is it okay that I missed a capital or a period?
  • Why is it okay? 

The purpose of your discussion is to establish two things:

  1. The content of the writing is what counts.
  2. You need quiet to think about your writing and get words down.

Step 2: Set Expectations

After demonstrating and discussing the bell ringer process, outline your expectations.

Keep them simple. I like giving 3.

My expectations:

  1. Sit down and begin writing.
  2. Write the whole time.
  3. No talking.

Practice the Right Way

Discuss your expectations and then show your kids what these expectations will look like and sound like. 

Go outside the classroom. Close the door and then open the door.

Walk in quietly, pretend to put on your shoes and place your agenda on the back counter. Walk to your desk, open your journal and begin writing. 

Tell the kids it's their turn.

March your kids outside the classroom and have them show you. Let your kids actually start writing.

After a minute or so, tell your kids to stop writing. Discuss what everyone is doing right and highlight anything that didn’t meet your expectations. 

Practice The Wrong Way

After practicing the “right” way, show students what the “wrong” way looks like and sounds like. 

Go back outside and open the door. Shout out something like, “Teacher I forgot my lunch.” Then walk up to a student and start talking to them. Walk over to the window and yell at a bird on the playground to "fly away.” 

You get the idea.

Now march the kids back outside the classroom and have them practice doing the journal activity the “wrong” way.

After a few seconds, stop and discuss what everyone is doing that doesn't meet expectations.

Practice the Right Way Once Again

Finally, tell the kids they are NOW going to write in their journals for “real.” Let them go outside the classroom once more, and have them go through the process of walking in, getting their journals, and beginning their writing. 

Keep this session short so students experience success.

I like to start out with a 3 to 5 minute session and then stop. Prepare for the next day’s journal writing by making a game out of it. If the kids wrote for 4 minutes, tell them tomorrow you want to see if they can write for 5. 

Increase the writing session by one minute each day until you reach your time goal. 

Set your goal based on the age and abilities of your students. Grade 1 might write for 10 minutes while Grade 3 students might write for 15 or 20 minutes.

Worth the Time

Spending time modeling and discussing the process is sooooo worth the time. You’ll reap the benefits for the entire year. 

Your kids most likely won’t fall into this routine the very first day. You may need to repeat the above process a couple of times or your kids may need to be reminded of your expectations. 

Don't be afraid to stop your class if some kids aren't sticking with the expectations you've set. Be sure to state why you stopped them from writing and what they should be doing.

Step 3: Provide Fun Writing Prompts

The final step in establishing journal writing as a bell ringer activity is to provide students with fun writing prompts. You want prompts that engage them and provide them with ideas for their writing. 

I like to provide prompts that include target questions so if kids are struggling with what to write about, they can begin by answering the questions.

Need writing prompts to get started? Be sure to check out the different formats of prompts under “journal writing prompts” in the freebie library. Want even more? CLICK HERE

... A Great Day

I wish the last kid a good evening, walk over to my desk, and the hum of the lights returns. Yup. Teacher still happy. I had a great day ... and it all began with a calm, quiet class in the morning.

Happy writing!

Until next time,

P.S. Do you struggle teaching writing to your kids? Are you looking for writing tips, strategies and ideas?

Not sure if any of these are for you? Check out the Touch of Honey Freebie Library. Download a freebie and begin using in your classroom today.