The other day, my sweetheart’s third grade daughter, Claire, was talking about how much she loves her new teacher. When I asked why, one of the first things she said was, “She makes writing fun! I used to hate writing, but she gives us neat stuff to write about.” When I asked for an example, she enthusiastically told me about how the teacher had them write about the perfect school day. Contrast that with a parent who was recently telling me that her child was bored because the only prompt the students ever got was, “What did you do over the weekend?”
Writing in a school journal can be tiresome drudgery or creative magic, and which it is has a lot to do with the prompt. Here are some guidelines for writing good ones.
Ask a Good Question
Often, a journal prompt is in the form of a question. The main thing to keep in mind is that these questions should be open-ended and require more than a few words or sentences to answer. Consider the classic prompt: What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a bad journal prompt because once the child writes “a rockstar,” there isn’t much else to do. This question can be improved in several ways; here are just a few:
- What do you want to be when you grow up? Why?
- What are five things you would like to do before you are 20 years old?
- What is your dream job? Describe a typical work day at this job.
- What do you think your life will be like when you are 30 years old?
- What are the three most important jobs in the world? Why are these three jobs so important?
- Would you want to be the president? Why or why not?
- Would you rather be a famous writer, a rock star, or a doctor who finds a cure for cancer? Why?
Allow for imagination
- Imagine that you can do whatever you want for a whole day, even if it costs a lot of money. Describe your amazing day.
- What if animals could talk? How would the world be different?
- What if you could be invisible? Write about what you would do.
- Imagine that you get to plan a party for your class. What would you eat? What games would you play?
- What if you could make your favorite fictional character real? Write about spending a day with that character.
Consider Real Life
- Describe a time when you did something you were proud of.
- Write about a time when you did something you have never done before.
- Write about the last time you helped someone.
- What is one of your favorite memories from when you were [pick an age]?
Ethics Are Interesting
- What are the most important qualities in a friend? Are you a good friend? Why or why not?
- Is it ever okay to lie? Why do you think so?
- What are three things that every parent should do? Why are these things important?
- It has been said that money can’t buy happiness. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- Would you rather be beautiful, smart, or athletic? Why?
Reluctant Writers Like Lists
- Things that make you happy
- Favorite activities
- Places you want to go
- People you admire
- Things you would like to do or learn someday
- Things that make you angry or upset
- Things you are grateful for