Teaching reading and writing with buddy journals

Diverse Elementary ClassA technique for using dialogue journals that takes less teacher time and also encourages cooperation between students is described by Karen D’Angelo Bromley, who teaches graduate courses at State University of New York-Binghamton, and co-directs an early intervention project for “at risk” children in grades K-3.

Bromley believes that journal writing is a natural way to combine the practice of reading and writing skills. Research has established that combining instruction of reading and writing enhances literary learning. In journal writing, the reading and writing tend to reinforce one another as vocabulary, syntax, semantics and form develop in a meaningful context.

Students are paired

In Bromley’s buddy journal technique, students are paired together as pen-pals. Through informal dialogue, the buddy journal encourages students to become as comfortable “conversing” in written language as they are in spoken language. The students, Bromley reports, view the exercise as personally meaningful.

Topics, which they generate themselves, are usually kept going through feedback from one another. (Bromley reports that even kindergartners can share their drawings and invented writing with a buddy.)

Here are a few of Bromley’s suggestions:

-Before beginning a buddy journal report, explain to parents just how it works and what the benefits are.

-Explain to students that the purpose of journal writing is to communicate their thoughts and ideas, rather than to receive a grade for spelling, punctuation or grammar.

-Have the students keep personal journals for a couple of weeks so they become accustomed to the format.

-Set aside a “special time” each day for journal writing (a few minutes around lunchtime or at the end of the day, she suggests).

-Allow students to make and decorate their journals and to use colored pens or pencils when writing in their journals. This will heighten their enthusiasm for the project.

-Initiate the buddy journal project with the teacher acting as buddy for each child until the students understand the interaction between journal partners.

-Allow students to volunteer for the project and to choose their own partners.

-Set a time frame so that interest doesn’t lag – two weeks with a partner, each writing every other day may be sufficient.

Information to be shared

As best friends will gravitate toward each other as buddies, so, also, some children may have difficulty finding a partner. Teachers might want to monitor partnerships, assigning and changing them when necessary. The teacher may arrange numerous ways for students to have some choice in choosing buddies while structuring the choice so as to ensure variety (choosing from same or opposite sex, choosing one of same/different eye color, etc., or drawing from a hat).

From time to time, students will need to be reminded that unlike personal diaries, buddy journals are not private. For this reason, they may need to be reminded to write only about subjects they want to share with others. When interest lags or problems develop, students may wish to return to personal diary writing for a while. Also, teachers may need periodically to assign a topic for journal entries. Discussing the book they’re reading and why they would or would not recommend it is one topic with which most children are comfortable.

Teachers as buddies

Bromley reports that the teachers who include themselves as a buddy in journal writing have been the most successful. Those experienced in this technique emphasize the importance of making time for journal writing, monitoring its success, and making adaptations as described above.

Bromley believes that buddy journals are a natural and meaningful way to practice reading and writing. Journals build on the child’s usually well-developed conversational abilities and, because they have a real audience, students are motivated to improve their spelling, grammar and penmanship. Buddy journals also foster cooperation and collaboration among students while building confidence in their ability to write.

“Buddy Journals Make The Reading-Writing Connection,” The Reading Teacher November 1989, p. 122-129.

Published in ERN January/February 1990 Volume 3 Number 1


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