Teaching positions don't always start at the beginning of the year, but there are ways to make any situation work. When I started teaching in a third grade class in the middle of the school year, I found that students had already built community and the classroom systems were already in place. Coming into this already-unique classroom environment was intimidating. Everyone knew exactly where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing; then, I came into the mix. I wanted to get to know students on a more personal level, but I had no time for ice breakers or fun first-week-of-school activities, so I decided to have students start dialogue journals.
What is a Dialogue Journal?
Dialogue journals are a way for students and the teacher to communicate; it is a way to engage in a written, private conversation. I first asked students to write a letter to me, telling me about themselves and what I should expect as a teacher in their classroom. At the end of their letter, I also asked them to write at least two questions they wanted me to answer. I replied to each student, telling them about myself, and asking a few questions.
After the first week, I didn't give them a prompt. Each of my 22 students led the conversation in their dialogue journal; I learned about Mia’s relationship with her twin sister, Cesar’s love for baseball, and Omar’s compassion for lizards. These written conversations broke the barrier between me and my students, and allowed for a more cohesive relationship. Getting to know my students on a deeper level also helped me to better teach each individual student.
Dialogue Journals and Basic Skills
Although I never corrected the spelling or punctuation in the dialogue journals, I began to notice that students' writing fluency began to increase, even though I put no pressure on them. I think that the combined effect of having students practice writing often, and being able to read my writing as an example, helped students' increase their writing fluency gradually.
At the end of the school year, it was neat to see the amount of progress my students had made in their writing abilities; the evidence was seen not only in their dialogue journals, but in other classroom assignments as well. The dialogue journals provide a way for students to write freely, which has a positive affect on their writing habits for all assignments. After using dialogue journals, my students became more creative, more independent, and were, most importantly, more excited about writing.
Creating Dialogue Journals
Ways to create a dialogue journal:
- Use composition journals or spiral notebooks.
- Sandwich a stack of lined paper between two sheets of card stock for the covers--bind with staples or a spiral comb.
Here are some questions for teachers:
- How do you get to know your students, whether it be in the beginning of the school year, or in the middle?
- What learning activities or assignments have you found helpful in increasing your students’ writing fluency?
By using dialogue journals, and thinking about other activities that can build community and increase writing fluency, teachers can create a classroom full of successful students and fluent writers.
Writing Fluency Lessons and Activities:
In this lesson, students practice using prepositional phrases to increase their writing fluency.
This worksheet hasstudents engage in a quickwrite, answering: who, what, what, where, when, why and how?
This worksheet includes eleven interview questions for students to answer or ask each other.
In this lesson plan, students learn more about each other, after discussing what they read in the One and Only Special Me. They create a class graph.