We all have those students who are reluctant writers. They are the quiet ones and are those students who don’t actively ask for help. They hope they can be unseen and overshadowed by the more advanced writers in the class - and will even find ways to become distracted so they don’t have to put pencil to paper. I’ve had my fair share and I can’t blame them for not enjoying writing. It can be a difficult subject for some and depending on their experiences before stepping into my classroom they may already be frustrated or unconfident in their abilities before they even start.
We also know those students who lie on the opposite spectrum - these are the advanced writers. They love to write and often grasp writing skills quickly and are amongst the first to finish. These students enjoy writing and are eager for a challenge just to keep their minds busy. Teachers often times miss these students too because their focus are on those middle-of-the-road students and assign mundane review tasks just so the excelling students stay busy.
How exactly do I manage to grab the attention and excitement for writing from both groups of kids? Well, ever since I began Discovery Journals with my class it has been proven to show an increase in student involvement both in school and at home.
Discovery Journals is an at-home research/informative writing project that spans the entire school year. It is optional and is not graded, however I do look over each journal and make little notes to the student as guidance for their following entry. I typically begin this activity a few months after school has started - just so kids aren’t overwhelmed and gives them time to get settled in academically.
I always share with students this new opportunity and how it will give them extra practice with their writing skills. What’s the hook? They get to choose the topic of their writing each and every week (student choice is everything!). Beginning with the letter A and moving through the alphabet, they are to pick a topic, research it at home either using books or supervised online resources, then use the provided brainstorming sheets to record their facts and write a short paragraph or two as an informative writing piece. Students are then to present their writing in a oral presentation to the class on a day designated by the teacher (I typically pick Friday).
The main structure of this project is for students to properly plan their writing so they have material to which to write with. The planning sheets include A-Z and once students complete Z they can pick their own topics. These blacklines allow students to:
- draw a picture of their topic (example: alligators (sketch a picture))
- come up with a topic sentence that hooks the reader
- three facts to use within their writing
- find one new vocabulary word to use in their writing and define it for their readers
- a concluding sentence
Afterwards, students are equipped with enough material to begin their writing, which they will complete within their Discovery Journals (aka composition notebook).
I always try to give my parents as much information up front as possible. I never try to assume that they know how each little assignment or project is supposed to be completed - even if I feel like I do a great job at explaining it. Since composition notebooks are the only material that parents need to provide, it is important that students find the ‘just right’ notebook for their abilities. So, I provided this (above) optional handout for teachers to send home with the parent letter so they know what kind of writing tablet they should be looking for for their child.
This is a sign-up sheet that is again optional for your class. I often have a lot of students showing interest every year and it makes it easy for me to keep a log as to who is participating. This sheet can be laminated for use every year or simply printed out and kept in your teacher binder for reference.
I am always so excited to share this with my kiddos and hope you can engage your students too with this fun at-home project!