"I don't like this topic..."
"I'm done!" (after a mere five lines...)
...and the classic: "I don't know what to write!"
If you have taught English to children and teens (and also adults!) you have probably heard these lines on more than one occasion. Motivating young learners to write can be tough, especially if you want them to draft, revise, redraft and so on.
One idea I have toyed with over recent times to get my students more interested in writing and to encourage more flowing expression is journaling.
Yes, it sounds like it shouldn't work - ask kids who are reluctant writers to write more - but I have seen and heard plenty to suggest otherwise (Sandy Millin's blog is a great place to start - check out her slideshow and make sure to click on the links for plenty of extra info and ideas).
I tend to think of it as extensive writing, free from the pressures of assessment and grades to encourage developing the skill of writing by doing plenty of it. It can help in the generation of ideas for subsequent writing projects and it can be a great confidence builder. If we consider blogging as a form of journaling, it played a major role in helping me think some things out before getting stuck into assignments while doing my MA.
But still, there are some students who are reluctant to get into journaling. They go back to the same old excuses given at the start of the post and it is a challenge to get them going. Helping my son as he was working on his 'reading log' last week, in which he has to write daily reflections on chapters of a book he is reading, it hit me - why not encourage those who do not know what to write to keep a gaming journal?
Take a game like Minecraft - it is a truly open-ended game with a huge variety of landscapes, dangers and resources to interact with. A diary chronicling the player's attempts to survive would be a great way to get students enthused.
I can see this working for different levels of learner as well. Elementary level groups could simply list the actions they did in chronological order. Pre-intermediates could develop their writing into more coherent paragraphs with a narrative description of their gameplay. Intermediate students and above could be encouraged to embellish the story more, adding details and giving the thoughts of the character from a first person perspective.
And this extends way beyond Minecraft of course. Games like The Long Dark, This War of Mine, or Papers Please all offer the chance for diary style writing. Story-driven games such as those by Telltale Games also offer the chance for learners to reflect on the action of a particular chapter, the development of the plot and characters, and predictions about where the story will go next.
Games like Democracy 3 and Plague Inc could be the inspiration for news articles reporting on the in-game events. Guides and hints on how to survive or progress in the game could also form part of the journal. The possibilities are numerous and I am only at the beginning of the process of exploring them.
With all these ideas and modes of writing in their journals, our students will not only be more experienced writers but they will also have plenty of material to draw upon for any assessed pieces of writing they are later set. The journals do not have to be pen and paper of course. Apart from the obvious use of a computer to type their reflections up, there is the option to tell these stories via voice recordings and screencasted videos - not writing of course but still great process-focused storytelling practice.
Have you tried anything like this before?
Have your students spontaneously told you about games they play through journal entries?
If so, please share your experiences in the comments. :)