Grammar Journals

By Mary Blow on March 1, 2012
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Grammar journals get my students writing every day, increase their motivation to write, and teach grammar through practical application. Lately, we have been consuming more class time on Common Core writing, which is good, but I started questioning myself. Were my students writing enough to develop the writing fluency skills they need to pass state assessments? Was I teaching the pleasure of writing?

Grammar journals provide a risk-free zone where students can experiment  with new grammar skills in the context of their own writing. I introduce them in a manner similar to the way I introduce warm-ups or bell ringers. Sometimes the students engage in free writes. Other times, when I am setting them up for a specific grammar lesson, I provide a prompt. My 6th graders love the journals! On the last grammar assessment, 97 percent of my 110 students scored 80 or above on pronoun questions similar to state assessment questions. The questions covered subject pronouns, object pronouns, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns, which are part of the CCSS focus for grade 6. My 6th graders were successful because they could apply the rules they had learned in their own writing attempts.

 

Grammar Journals Overview

For our journals, we use single-subject spiral notebooks. I teach one grammar rule each week, or 40 grammar lessons a year. I introduce the rule on Monday in a 20–40 minute lesson and return to it throughout the week.

The right-hand page of the notebook is for journaling. I give my 6th graders one minute to think and three to five minutes to write. It prepares them for writing under timed conditions. Later, if they choose, they can go back and write more.

The left-hand page is reserved for recording grammar notes. This way, by the end of the year, they will have a grammar reference guide and a journal to illustrate how much they have grown as writers.

The journals are introduced creating what Ralph Fletcher calls an “expert list,” that is, an idea bank or a list of topics that you know something about. This supports those students who get the deer-in-the-headlights look when asked to come up with a topic. A picture of my “expert web” from my own journal is pictured above.

 

Right Side: Journal Entries

On Monday, we begin each grammar lesson with a journal entry. I like to give them free writing time with very few stipulations. For example, students may like to write nature journals, weather journals, diaries, or stories. These are exemplars of journals they may keep as adults.

However, if I want to teach subject pronouns, plural and possessive, I would have them write about something they did with a friend or family member. Or, if the goal is to teach reflexive pronouns (myself, himself, themselves, etc.), I may ask them to write about a time when they went shopping with friends or family. Their goal in this case is to write in detail, describing what each person bought and for whom they bought it. This sets them up for the forthcoming grammar lesson. If I want to teach a lesson on prepositional phrases, I might have them describe their favorite room in the house, identifying where everything is located. My goal, in addition to teaching grammar, is to help them develop writing fluency, motivate them to write, and foster a love of journaling that they will carry into adulthood. During the rest of the week, my students continue to write, but I also post bell ringers that reflect state test assessments.

Students are not required to share their entries, but I do allow them the opportunity. You would be surprised what students will share. It is important to create a risk-free environment. In the upper right-hand corner, we code each journal entry. An open eye means it is public. A closed eye means it is private. My students know that I will honor their privacy and not share their entry with the class. One unplanned benefit is that you get to know your students on a deeper level.

 

Left-Side Grammar Lessons

After students finish writing, they take grammar notes on the left-hand side of their journals. Sometimes, in order to save time, I create half page notes, like the ones to the right, and the students glue them in. Each lesson contains a title, a definition, examples, and an interactive component. Sometimes the interactive component is a blank space, where students add their own examples, or a state test type of question. Feel free to download my subject and object pronouns notes.

The most successful lessons focus on the errors that the majority of the class is making. Once the rule is taught, students apply this knowledge to their own writing. They highlight samples of their writing that illustrate that they can use the rule correctly or samples they have edited according to what they have learned. It takes 20–40 minutes to introduce a grammar rule and apply it. The rest of the week we review and apply the rule to journal entries and academic writing.

 

Review and Reinforce Bell Ringers

Throughout the week, students write in their journals and complete one bell-ringer or warm-up exercise. We focus on the new skill, but also spiral prior skills that caused students to struggle. Most bell ringers reflect state assessment grammar questions. I walk around the room and quickly assess who has mastered the skill and who has not, and briefly meet with those who are struggling. A short class discussion closes the bell-ringer activity.

 

Grading the Journals

How do I grade all this writing? Ha! I am a busy person. I do not have time to grade 110 journals every week, especially if students are writing every day. My goal is to maintain the sandbox, risk-free atmosphere. I assess bell ringers daily, so I know whether or not my students are mastering the grammar skills. However, to foster accountability for journal writing, I walk around the room with a checklist every five weeks, while students are reading or writing an assignment, and grade journals with the following rubric:

  • Journals are labeled and neat (10 points)
  • Five grammar notes recorded completely and accurately (25 points)
  • Five journal entries (25 points)

Since introducing grammar journals, I've noticed that the intrinsic value my students place in grammar has increased considerably. In my classroom, we now have major grammar discussions. When students first acquire a new skill, they often overcorrect, and grammar journals give them the opportunity to explore and practice the newly learned skill. If they are proficient in their personal writing, they will be more successful at transitioning the skills to the high-level academic writing that is required from the Common Core. It also preserves the love of writing.

 

FREE Grammar Resources

If you have a grammar reference book, most of the work is done for you. You can simply have students copy the rule in their journal and add examples, and provide a section for interaction. A great time-saving option is to use Scholastic Printables and Scope magazine’s grammar resources for notes and bell ringers. Sometimes, they have the rules in a box at the top of the page, so students can simply cut out the rules and examples and glue them into the journals.

I love the grammar lessons that Scope magazine offers on its companion Web site. Yes, this is new. “The Lazy Editor” provides an opportunity for students to practice and review skills beyond the grammar journals. For instance, Scope’s January 30, 2012, Lazy Editor includes lessons on capitalizationavoiding run-on sentencescorrect placement of modifiersword-variation, and sentence-structure variation.

Scholastic Printables has many grammar handouts, many of which are aligned to the Common Core. For example, according to the CCSS, 6th grade grammar should encompass an in-depth exploration of pronouns. Printables offer a differentiated pack on pronouns (grades 4, 5, and 6) to support the different level of learners in the classroom. To help introduce the different types of pronouns to my 6th graders, I used the handouts "Subject and Object Pronouns," "Indefinite Pronouns," "Possessive Pronouns," and "Pronouns Test Prep" (a bell-ringer resource).

 

Do you use grammar journals in your classroom, or have questions about how they work? Comment below.

Comments

I love this idea. Is there a way to get a copy of the 40 lessons?

I love your grammar journals. Do you have copies of the 40 lessons to share?

I love your ideas! I'm a first year teacher teaching 6th grade and would love to have your 40 lessons. I want to incorporate a grammar/writing journal in my class. Thanks in advance!

I am in love with this idea! If you are willing to share your 40 grammar lessons, I would love, love, love a copy of them. I have struggled to find a manageable way to teach grammar, and it sounds like you've hit the nail on the head.

Thank you so much!

acook@oconeeschools.org

This would be great in my classroom. May I have a copy of the 40 lessons as well? Thank you so much for sharing! :)

I think this sounds fantastic. I would love a copy of your 40 lessons.

Hello,
Our county is incorporating Common Core this year, and we are struggling to cover all the grammar skills because of time issues. This looks fun and effective. If you are sending your 40 lessons to people, I would like a copy also.
Thanks!!

I would love a copy of your 40 lessons if you are sharing! It's my first year in a middle school English class and I could really use the help! Thanks!

I would love to get a copy of your 40 lessons, if it is at all possible. Thanks for the inspiration.

I am about to embark on a new adventure this year in using interactive grammar notebooks. I love how you explained your process in using them. I am a 5th grade teacher and would love to have the 40 lessons that you teach. Would you mind sharing them with me?

Thank you Mary for sharing the great idea of teaching grammar via a grammar journal. It would be a very helpful strategy for teaching my middle-school ELD students. I will be starting the new school year off by incorporating this lesson idea. I can see how much my students will be appreciating having grammar rules and application samples readily available.

I will be teaching 9th grade this fall. Seeing this post helped me to formalize some ideas I've had regarding grammar and vocabulary instruction. I would like some additional information regarding the 40 lessons you teach during the school year. It would help immensely. Thank you for sharing. I can be reached at msgkemp@gmail.com.

Hi Mary! I LOVE this idea! I'm starting my first year of teaching 9/10 grades in two weeks. Would you mind sending me your lessons? I'm nervous/excited/at times overwhelmed by the approaching incorporation of Common Core. Thank you!

Alyson
atfetzer@gmail.com

I absolutely love the idea of a grammar journal. My school is focused on diagramming sentences, which I believe is important but not as important as applying the lessons to actual writing. If you are sending out your 40 lessons, I would love to take a look at them in order to guide me in implicating the grammar journal. My e-mail is klhernjak@gmail.com. Thank you!

I teach ESL and think this is FABULOUS!! I, too, would love to see the 40 grammar lessons. Thanks for sharing your grammar journal!!!

I am going to attempt to use a grammar journal this year and I love what you have developed. I am a 5th grade ELA/Social Studies teacher and I am just trying to prepare for next year. It will be my second year teaching, I would greatly appreciate if you would share your 40 mini lessons. I just would love to be able to go in this year more organized than this year.

Thanks for your time!

I am working with a young teacher who is very interested in your Grammar Journals. We really LOVE the ideas and think it will work with her students! We have plenty of materials for the grammar lessons and plenty of ideas about the writing. We just have one question regarding the grading info: Are the students writing each day of the week on the same topic they started on Monday? Thanks in advance for the clarification.

LOVE this!! Can I please have a copy of the 40 lessons too???

Thank you!!!

I love this idea. I would like to get a copy of the forty lessons, as well. Thank you so much for the inspiration.

Wonderful article! I would love it if you could send me the forty lessons.

Thank you!

Thank you for all of the great information! If you could send the forty lessons my way too, it would be forever appreciated.
Thanks so much!

I came across your idea on Pinterest and I love it. Can I please get your 40 mini ideas/lessons. I am looking at revamping my bellringer activities for next year and would love to see your examples. Thanks.

We are trying to revamp some things and I came across your idea! I love it! Can you please send me your 40 lessons? Thanks!

May I have a copy of your 40 lessons? caitlin_todd@walther.com

Hello! Wow! What a great idea. I have always given students daily journal prompt. This would make grammar so much more authentic. Could you please send me your 40 lesson ideas?? THANK YOU.

I would love a copy of your 40 topics!!!

I am starting grammar journals this next school year, and I would love your 40 lessons for inspiration. If you have time, can you possibly send them my way? Thank you!

Catherine.anne2@gmail.com

Working on creating my own grammar notebook. Could I get a copy of your 4o lessons too?
Thanks for the great idea!

I teach 3rd grade. I would love to have a copy of the 40 lessons and sample pages. I struggle with teaching grammar every year. Please let me know if you would be willing to share any of this to help.
Thank you in advance!

This is my first year in 6th grade. I come from a third grade arena. I love the use of journals. I am like others can I get a copy of your 40 lessons. That would be awesome. I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for sharing.

May I have a copy of your 40 lessons?

I'm the seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher. I absolutely love what you've done with these journals. How can I get copies of your 40 minute lessons? You're blessing!

Hi! I love the idea! I teach 6th grade and this would be perfect! Would you mind sharing your 40 week lessons and the journal entries you have the students do! I would greatly appreciate it! THANK YOU!
katielaurie@atasusd.org

Katie

Thank you for sharing your expertise. I love the idea of incorporating creative or informational writing into each lesson. At the end of the year, I will have a truly authentic portfolio of their progress. Brilliant!

I teach 5th and would also love a copy of the 40 lessons :) thanks so much for sharing! Teriteaches@yahoo.com

Mary, thanks for sharing your grammar journals. Currently, I use dialogue journals in my classroom but never thought about using grammar journals in addition to my dialogue journals. I can see how using this format can be beneficial to not only the students but to myself. What I enjoy most about the journal is that everything is in one place. I am already wrapping my head around how to incorporate this with my grammar program, Daily Language Instruction (DLI). You mention that you only assess the journals every 5 weeks. Do you find that is frequent enough to ascertain if your students are progressing toward the standard for that particular skill?

Thanks for sharing your ideas about journal entries! I would love to be able to incorporate your 40 lessons and bell ringers! Thanks so much!

I am certified in 7-12 language arts, and I always dread parts of speech review. It seems students always forget the basics. How do you approach these. Is it a one week lesson, or does it span over a few weeks? Also what kind of writing assignment would you include with it?

Your approach sounds awesome. I would love a copy of your 40 lessons and bellringers or warm-ups.

I would also love to have a copy of your 40 lessons...
Thanks in advance

I love the idea for sixth grade! Are you sharing your 40 printable on your grammar lessons? This was my first year in sixth grade and I wish I had seen this already. Just let me know how to get a copy of your lessons. You are awesome!

I teach 6th grade. I would like the 40 lessons you teach. Also, if you use as a bell ringer, are you only using 10/15 min. of time each day? Grammar is the one thing I'm struggling to fit into my daily lessons.

jball

What are the 40 topics in 6th grade that you're teaching?

Great idea! I would love to have a list of the 40 topics you cover throughout the year (acooper@plt3.org). I am teaching 5th grade for the first time and have a difficult time getting enough time to teach the grammar skills. This sounds like a great way!

Did you get a copy of her lessons? If so how? I would love them. Thanks.

So I just want to clarify, the students only have one journal entry for the week? The journal entry is based on a prompt only if you need to focus on a specific skill but other than that students choose their topics? I don't understand the bell ringers, is this an actual test question or is it a timed writing assignment?
I really want to implement this and maybe even with spelling because kids pass spelling test but have horrible spelling in writing.

I would love to know what the 40 lessons are. Would you mind sharing or telling me where you get them from.

I too would love to know the 40 lessons! simmonsandgalie@yahoo.com

I love this idea! I have been searching for a way to get the rules of grammar into my students writing not just bubbles filled in on a test.

I was wondering if I could also get your 40 mini ideas or lessons. My email is strohlife@yahoo.com. Thank you!

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