In Section 19 of Spilling Ink, young writers are encouraged to keep a journal. Ellen Potter says it could be one of the most important things they can do to flex your writing muscles. Keeping a journal will keep them writing, giving them practice in small chunks at a time, possibly building their endurance for longer bouts of writing. They can keep track of the minutia of their day-- descriptions of interesting people they saw, snippets of conversations they overheard, funny words they come across, potential names of characters-- all kinds of goodness that they may potentially use later in a story. Or not. Either way, they are writing, which is good for them.
Whenever I think of journals, my mind goes back to the double-wide trailer I shared with my good friend, "Ms. Mac." We taught first grade together there. That trailer was our little slice of teaching heaven-- we could be as loud and silly as we wanted out there, away from the "pods" inside the school. (Remember the crazy "pod" phase, back in the 90's?) We were a happy little family-- Ms. Mac on one side and me on the other, connected by a tiny hallway, in which we usually had some kind of project brewing. (We hatched baby chicks there one year--awesome!)
As my gaggle of six year olds trickled in to the trailer each morning, they would write in their journals. During each lunch break, I would eat my PB&J, put on a little Frente' and write back to them, commenting on what they wrote, modeling correct spelling, punctuation, spacing, and left to right movement. More importantly, we developed a bond over those words. One of those students, Hailey, has kept in touch, over miles and miles and years and years. She just graduated from college and is going to be a teacher herself. She and her mom kept up that journal writing-- commenting back and forth in journal after journal, sometimes able to put on paper the words they couldn't put into the air between them. The power of the journal is not lost on me. I'm sending Hailey a nice, new journal as a graduation present.