Developing Writing Skills Through Personal Journals: Part 2

In today’s blog, I continue describing strategies for keeping a personal journal. In my last blog, I referred to personal journals as a tool for improving writing fluency and overcoming the problem of not knowing what to write about. As I also mentioned, I used this strategy at the suggestion of my writing teacher, and it helped me overcome my writing apprehension.

The issue that some students may face with keeping a personal journal, though, is their lack of experience, or perhaps the mundane character of this practice. So let’s look at some ideas that students can use to find joy in keeping personal journals.

Experimenting With Genres

The beauty of personal journals is that they don’t have a set genre. In other words, journal entries don’t have to and shouldn’t follow a particular model. In fact, I suggest that students aim for creativity in their entries by experimenting with different genres. For example, one day they can write a humorous story, another day a poem, or sometimes they can try writing in an academic style. They can also compose in the form of a letter, a report, or a memoir. Switching genres is a lot of fun, and hopefully it will help students discover new skills and talents they might not be aware of.

Describing Places They Visited

Travel experiences provide lots of opportunities for writing. For example, students can describe the place itself, the people they met there, their impressions about the place, and fun things they did. In addition to describing, they can also try practicing other skills, such as analyzing, comparing, and reflecting.

I personally like to visit national parks here in the United States; every summer, I try to go to a new National Park. There is so much to see there and of course lots to write about. Because I usually take an incredible number of pictures during my trips, I include them in my descriptions, too. They make my entries more interesting and lively and help my trips remain memorable (see the previous blog on incorporating visuals into journal writing). I know that several years later I will have a great time reading those entries!

Sharing Experiences About Food

I have several Facebook friends who post pictures of almost every meal they eat during their travels. What a fun way to share travel experiences with people in your network! Students, too, can make “food entries” in their personal journals by describing food they eat when they go on trips and including pictures of the different meals they try. In addition, it’s another great opportunity for them to learn descriptive vocabulary.

Describing Language Learning Experiences

When students describe their learning experiences, they develop reflective and analytical abilities and get used to noticing their learning styles and strategies. This is important for becoming self-regulated and more successful language learners. Not all students know what kind of learners they are. For example, they might not be aware of the strategies that work best for them to develop their vocabulary knowledge or reading skills. Or they may not be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses in writing. Without reflecting on their learning processes, it may certainly be difficult for students to monitor their language development and set goals for further growth. Personal journals can become an excellent venue for practicing self-evaluation skills. Becoming acquainted with their language learning strategies will help students know how to become more successful users of English. And, of course, when describing their language learning experiences, students should not dismiss the negative ones.

To help students become more reflective, you should encourage them not just to describe, but also analyze their learning practices. For example, let’s say they had a successful experience memorizing an interesting English expression and using it in a conversation with their native-speaking friend. What a wonderful experience to describe and reflect on! Students can ask themselves the following questions:

  • Why do they think they were able to memorize this particular vocabulary item effectively?
  • What or who helped them?
  • What was the context?
  • Do they think they can use the same strategy in the future?

These are all important questions to reflect on and to write down in their journal. If students keep describing such language-learning experiences on a regular basis, soon enough they will be able to make a list of their effective learning strategies and the ones they believe are not efficient for them.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, not knowing what to write about is a common writing challenge, both for native and nonnative speakers. If your students have this problem, they can try keeping a personal journal in English. I hope it will help them become not only better writers, but also more reflective learners.

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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