Archive for August, 2008




The purpose of a Free Journal as part of the English curriculum is to provide the child with unrestricted opportunity to express thoughts and ideas, to practice writing as a skill and to explore topics that are close to the heart.


In all good schools, it is a routine practice internationally, to use the writing journal from grade 1 when the child begins to write, up to grade 12 where it is assessed for the Board examinations.


Whereas the grade 1 child would write on topics like: My birthday party; My aunt’s new cat; I love going to the beach; My favourite food or My pet caterpillar, the grade 12 goes through two years of personal, social and political observations to choose 10 items to be sent up as a testimony of the ‘growth of the mind’ and how the English course has influenced their thoughts and responses to life.


 As I find a lot of angst among parents regarding free journal, I am writing this note to help you not only to see the benefits but also to give you some ideas on how you can proceed.


Journal writing must be done every week. If it is a chore for the child, he/she will be unhappy, if he/she sees it as an exciting journey, he will love it.


Invest in a good writing book – the kind that invites the child to write.  You can create an index of weeks /topics/ remarks. This makes it look organized and  manageable and official. Encourage decorations, stickers, illustrations, photos to make it colourful and inviting.


Reluctant writers should be made to develop their writing skills in small steps. Negotiate a slow and steady increase in the quantity. Begin with a few lines and gradually increase it.  Free writing has no word limits, so there is no need to be anxious over small pieces. What is important is that writing has quality and the child is using good vocabulary and similes, description and overall the writing improves over time.  If the writing is over- corrected or the child feels he can never be good enough, then that demotivates the child. Always comment on what is good and give a few suggestions on where to improve.


An adult’s initial participation in an activity means a lot to the child. So reading texts or stories together, researching the net for a topic, talking about issues – all of these are ways to get the child to begin writing with enjoyment and enthusiasm.


Pictures are excellent prompts for writing and the newspapers are full of it. Make a collection together to choose from, for writing.  These can be used for simple descriptions of what the picture is, to imaginative description of any one character, or what will happen next, or a make believe story. The child could write a story, a dialogue or a mystery around it.


Family and photo albums are great ways to write about family and friends and occasions when the pictures were taken.  When pictures get stuck in the journal they come alive, making it a thing of joy and pride. If the child is proud of his/her journal  he/she will even want to make a first draft in rough and write the real thing neatly in the journal.


Get children to don the Reporter’s cap.  They could look at news items on sports, films, technology, advertisement and weather every week and make a newspage.  A piece of news on what is happening in the world, environment, science can be read together and the child can report it in his/her own words.


Cartoons, recipes, jokes, TV shows, observation of people around, interviewing people for information are all great motivators for the reluctant writer. Let us ask grandfather what he used to play with when he was a child is a way to gather information and then write about it.  You need to plan the journey together. This week what shall we write about? Let us do this…. Let the reluctant child feel that you are part of it.


Research is a great way to gather content. Surf the net for information on cars, airplanes, kings, robots, magic, animals etc. This will also enhance search skills.

Once there are points to write, the child will feel more supported. The journal, as you can see, is a vehicle for all round growth.


The child can also be asked to do book/film/TV show reviews. He/she can discuss with you general topics like money, weather, sports, movies, clothes food.  If you eat at a new restaurant, encourage the child to write a report on how good it was, give it stars on space, food, service, ambiance etc.  Was it child- friendly? If the child does this over a few weeks, a bar graph can be constructed on the quality of competing restaurants.


Imaginative topics are an endless source of fun in writing. What if I were a …. puppy, a witch doctor, a pilot…. I had three heads, if I could read minds….we lived in trees… If I were the President of the United States. …

Creating characters is fun too. Looking for weird names, strange features and behaviours. Creating locales to describe.  Making a police docket of the most wanted gangs.


Stories of adventures can be made from motley characters. The child can take random people, creatures, objects, locations, problems and create fantastic stories. E.g. a bad tempered dog, a bag of diamonds, an escaped lunatic, a car with faulty brakes, a sleepy policeman : connect them and make a story. Random words can be generated from a dictionary.


You can also fold a paper into two halves and in one half make a list of random people like a retired doctor, Shah Rukh Khan, a mean housewife, a paranoid parrot, a pious thief etc. on the other half make a list of actions like stealing  flowers,  spying on a neighbourhood house, mending a broken mixie, dancing on the street, playing in the park etc.  Make these into chits and pick one from each set. Combine and you get a story like… I saw Shah Rukh Khan playing in the park or I saw a retired doctor stealing flowers….I saw an alien washing his dog…. A funny story can be built.


Use an encyclopedia to find out rare facts and the child can write them in his /her own words.  These can even be cleverly incorporated in a story.


The child could do a brag story or a tall tale and tell all the lies that he wants. The bigger the lie the better the story.


Create debate scenarios where the child has to play the devil’s advocate. Why it is good to sleep late or why latecomers should be given a reward, or why writing is better than reading, or holidays are boring.


An easy thing to do is to report weekend activities. Plan good ones like going on a bird watch; driving around and counting cops, garbage bins, open spaces in a locality; meeting unusual people; visits to theatres and galleries; book shops and art exhibitions; visiting a market; celebrating a festival; attending a public meeting; watching a street procession; going to a temple; visiting a factory, a day at the zoo; watching kala ghoda street artists.  All these are experiences that can be described using sense vocabulary, people, event and locale descriptions.


Use poetry. Visit poetry sites and read aloud. Make a collection of good poetry over time. Draw a picture of a poem. Let the child write a similar one. Listen to songs and categorise them according to themes. 


Advertisements, jingles, brochures for a cake shop, travel posters, design a new gadget, make a magical product.


Do something new. Bake a dish, do a craft, do a science experiment and let the child report the procedure.


More topics: Invent a phobia and explain it. A box of secrets. My neighbour is an alien. The evil robot. A bad habit. A weird dream. A street fight.


Like a diary, the journal can be therapeutic. The things I like and the things I hate…. I am annoyed with…. I am pained by…. I love it when…. I wish….. This can lead to useful insights into the hopes dreams aspirations and fears of the child. The child could also be encouraged to make  ‘gratitude journal’ entries on the things he/she is blessed with and what he/she should be thankful for.


Introduce the child to philosophy with right/wrong, good/ bad/ is it ethical kind of stories to write about.  Introduce the child to social causes. Visit an old age home with gifts, drive through a slum, go to a blind school to help with reading, donate to an orphanage and the child will be overflowing with content and caring.


Your participation is very important. Your enthusiasm is infectious. If you read great descriptions and drool together the child will learn to love the language. When you discuss you bond with your child, when you mind-map on paper you teach and reinforce the skill. When you encourage vocabulary you make the words your child’s own.


If you use the ideas I have given you here, there is enough writing work for a couple of years.  By which time you won’t have a reluctant writer, you will have a writer who shoos you away with  “please mom, I know what to write…. “


Please see the free writing journal as a great opportunity for the child not just to write but to make him/her a whole person, reflective, compassionate, well informed and fulfilled.


Good luck and Best Wishes.

%d bloggers like this: