This paper was presented at the TESOLArabia '98 conference in Al-Ain, UAE and also appears in a later form in the TESOL Best Practice Series volume on Journal Writing. If you are interested in using Journals with your classes this is an absolute must buy.


This paper is a practical description of how I have run student journals successfully over the past two years. It focuses in particular on one class I have been teaching for the past ten months, because it is a reflection of all I have learnt about making journals work with the minimum ammount of work for the teacher. When teachers are asked if they have used journals, the majority reply that they would love to as they clearly see their benefit to the students, but they simply do not have the time. This paper addresses this notion in particular - that student journals take an inordinate ammount of teacher time - and attempts to show that it is incorrect. My own use of journals began on a very ad-hoc basis some six or seven years ago, based on the belief that I was not focussing on written fluency in my classes. All the students' written work seemed to be teacher generated and aimed at accuracy with correction focusing on the language rather than the message. I still believe today that the majority of writing classes taught in EFL tend to put the isea of fluency very much on the back burner. The use of student journals is my solution to giving students regular authentic practice in fluent writing. The paper attempts to follow the order of the presentation given at TESOLArabia '98, starting with setting the journal up and taking it through to its conclusion if there indeed is one.

In order for the journals to work well with any class it is imperative that the scene is set well, and that the students understand the ground rules for the journal. These can be listed in just four main points:
· the importance of freer writing. Students need to understand that these journals will not be corrected like all other written work. I actually make no language corrections in the journals at all, unless specifically asked by the student as part of an entry.
· the journal is the student's own. They are the ones who decide what and how much to write. I begin each journal with the same series of questions (see next section), but the students are permitted to write anything they like and are under no obligation to answer any question if they don't want to. These first entries are done in class on paper, but thereafter I insist that each student buy their own notebook for the journal. This seems to give them an increased sense of ownership and those I have run without separate notebooks have not worked as well. I always stress that since it is their own I am honoured to be able to read it and it is strictly confidential. I never show a journal to a third person. All student quotes in this paper are given with the individual permission of the student concerned.
· the language of my responses and how I write them. The students need to understand that the journal is like a written conversation in many cases, and that I do not grade my language in any way. It is up to them too try and understand my responses. If they don't, they can always ask for clarification in the next entry. It is this natural method of response which distinguishes the way I run journals to most examples I have seen. It also means that the journals take little time from the teacher's busy schedule. Each journal takes only minimally longer to respond to than it does to read.
· writing is a pleasure. A fact which is sadly lost in many EFL writing classes around the world. The journal is an attempt to bring the fun back into writing through genuine communication between teacher and student.

The first entry is completed in class and takes about half an hour together with setting the scene. It is the only class time I give over to the journals although I know other teachers allow a reading slot for students to go through the responses. I do not do this as it assumes that all the journals are given in and handed back on the same day. I find this impossible to cope with and give each of my students a hand in day for their journal. If they miss it, they must wait until the following week, and I would expect an apology in the next entry as well. In this way I only receive four journals a day from a class of twenty students and these would take me around half an hour to correct, maybe less depending on the size of the entries. After setting the scene I give the students the following questions and tell them they have twenty minutes to write their answers. They should concentrate on what they want to say rather than the gammar and spelling. The message is paramount. The journals are about the fluency of the student's writing as well as the clarity of expression and use of vocabulary. These last three sentences I often include in the introduction to the questions on the worksheet. I have tried starting the journal without questions, with fewer questions and with more questions than those below. However, I have discovered that the eight below seem to get the best response:
1. How often do you write in English?
2. What do you like writing?
3. What do you find most difficult when you are writing?
4. What would you like to work on in this journal?
5. What topics do you find most interesting?
6. What do you think makes a good writer?
7. How do you think I can help you become a better writer?
8. What are your personal aims for this course?

Students write exactly what they want to. I don't encourage them to write more or less. I have had some responses to the second question stretch to two pages whilst others have written simply; "Not a lot." It is how I respond in the journal which will encourage students to write more, and I have to give them the feeling from the first entry that it is their journal. Therefore, even if they have only written eight monosyllabic responses, I still collect it with a smile and a thank you. This first and only class devoted to the journals finishes with a discussion and decision on which day each student will hand their journal in.

In this section of the paper I will hand you over to the students and simply give you a randomly selected list of responses so that you can have an idea of the variety generated by the eight questions. Student quotes are in purple throughout the article for ease of reference.
1. How often do you write in English?
· Almost every day since I write my diary in English.
· I sometimes write in English.
· Actually I write twice a month when I'm on vacations, while when I'm at the college I could write every day or 3 times a week.

2. What do you like writing?
· I write letters to friends..
· Stories, poems but I really don't like writing 'business' stuff unless I really have to (like in college)..
· I like writing essays for example.

3. What do you find most difficult when you are writing?
· Sometimes I find it difficult to come up with ideas.
· The spelling and conjunction.
· Accurate.

4. What would you like to work on in this journal?
· Since I really don't have a clear idea about journals, I have no 'serious' comment except what I liked in the way you explained it: "it's not a pencil sketch, it's more an oil painting. So I guess you'd expect sure Picaso art from our class. I like Van Gough style more so I guess you'd expect 'weird' stuff from me.
· Anything which helps improve my writing skills.
· Accurate, spelling and grammar..

5. What topics do you find most interesting?
· Controversial topics, you know, the 'in stuff'.
· I like writing about social topics as an example.
· Civilisations, environment, nature, history, pollution, social stories, adventures, majical stories, archeology, politic, poems, health, arabic literature, science, religious themes, psychological subjects.

6. What do you think makes a good writer?
· I think that practicing writing makes a good writer.
· One that express oneself truly and honestly without regard to what should or shouldn't be talked or written about.
· I think reading and writing make a good writer.

7. How do you think I can help you become a better writer?
· Encourage me to be myself.
· Don't critic me because I had bad experience with teachers on this.
· Tell me what I should and shouldn't do while writing.

When replying I simply read and put a number by any point I wish to comment on. I then cross reference by putting the same numbers at the end of the student entry and completing my comments. I spend NO time dwelling on what to write. If it doesn't come to me immediately, it is not something I would want to say. I respond quickly and naturally and as much as possible in a way I would in conversation. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. The student should be writing to me the person, not to their teacher looking for errors and wanting to correct. This is much easier said than done and takes some getting used to. However, it is worth the effort as correction time drops to a minimum and the students in turn respond more naturally and enthusiastically. My replies are to the content of the student's message. I don't correct the language. If I don't understand something, I just say so and ask the student to clarify what they mean. Occasionally, I might use "hidden correction" whereby I rewite what the student has written in my response but correctly. I draw no attention to it and am continually surprised how students have picked up on it and started spelling the word correctly or using that particular form appropriately. Occasionally students have asked me to correct their work, and since it is their journal I have not refused. In my reply I stress that this is not what the journal is about, but if they really want to we could work on the language. I then suggest strategies we can use which could be from focusing on subject verb agreement to rewriting spelling mistakes to looking at what has been omitted (e.g. the auxiliary verb). In every case I never give the student the answer, but ask them to come up with the correction under my guidance through, for example, correction symbols. However, of the 21 journals I am running at the moment only two students are doing this, and that is a fairly consistent average. The majority revel in their new found writing freedom as the final section below shows. The first time I gave this presentation I found this difficult to explain. I explained this to my students, and a couple agreed to type up a selection of responses on a particular theme over a number of weeks. I think the example below demonstrates how I write my responses and how the students in turn respond much more vividly than any description or explanation I could give.

First Entry:
4. What do you like writing?
Manly I like to write stories. Also, I like anther intrusting topic like art, photography (*4*), sport.

Second Entry:
(*4*) Do you enjoy photography? Have you got your own camera? What kind is it? What do you like photographing?
Photography is another hobby that I have. Before I toke the photography course and that was two years ago photography was for me just a birthday party picture or any trip picture. But now I can say " I feel photography"(*9*). It permeate in my life like the disease and I never want to get well!! Every thing I see I put it in a picture. I have my own camera its Nicon F90 it not only a camera it just like a friend for me. The thing that I like to photograph most is the picture that tell the looker a story. Also, the photo that can put in a card and I love photographing flowers and babies.(*10*)

Third Entry:
(*9*) Can you expand on this beautiful idea? How do you feel photography?
It is very difficult to explain how do I feel photography. It is an eternity and spontaneity thought when I always put every thing I see in a picture. (*11*)I always think in how beautiful to put things in a photo not only this but to relate things in the picture, the color, the subject.(*12*) The most wonderful thing I learn in photography is that every thing is beautiful " Since I can photograph any thing". When I say every thing I mean every thing,,, the chair, books, pencil, cars, shoes…etc.(*13*)
(*10*) What is the best picture you've ever taken? Is it also your favourite? Why? Why not?
I don't have "best picture. I feel that my pictures are just like my children, I can't say I like this more than that. But I have some special picture because of people not me. One of them is " The sad Violin" because it has been chosen by the poet Mohammed Al Swuadi (*14*)for the cover of his last published book. (*15*)Another one is" Birthing smoke" which won the environment competition in RKWC(*16*). Another competition I entered and toke the first prize is the Fifth book fair in the Cultural Foundation for my picture "A child choosing a book".(*17*)

Fourth Entry:
(*11*) A lovely Description.
(*12*) Do you spend a lot of time preparing a photo? What is uppermost in your mind when you are setting it up?
Yes it does.. There are several step that I take before I take the shot and those what take the time. First: The Thinking some time takes days but mostly 1 to 3 hours. Then the scatch for the photo which help me put my thought in to paper which make at most 1 hour (*5*). Second: I start preparing for it, some time the thing I have at home is enough but some time I need to pay other think like flower or vegetables. · What do you mean by upper most!!!(*6*)
(*13*) I once read a quote which said something like, " The best artist in the world will make the slums of Rio look like the Country Club." Do you agree?
I totally agree with who said that. One day I was cocking and after I finish cutting the vegetables. I wanted to put the cute parts in the bean . Then I got a wonderful idea of taking a picture for it. And it was really wonderful picture and I put it on our kitchen !!.(*7*) From this you can see that silly thing could be Beautiful. (*8*)
(*14*) Is this a local poet? What are his poems like?
Mohammed Al suwadi mostly write local poems. I like his poems and he had some singer who sing it!!
(*15*) What an honor! Where can I see this cover?
I gave it to you… I hope you like it…(*9*)
(*16*) I'm very impressed What did the photo look like?
It is difficult for me to describe the picture. As the chines sad 1000 word can not discrete a picture. Any way in the picture there were smoke and you can see some trees and buildings throng the smoke… Here is a sketches of the picture ( The student sketched the picture in her journal).(*10*) You can see the photo in the pearl magazine (1995).(*11*)
(*17*) It sounds as though you are heading for national( and beyond) fame. Have you ever thought of doing a wall calendars?
I don't understand what you mean will you refreeze the question for me please?(*12*)

Fifth entry:
(*5*) Do you keep your sketches after you have taken the photo?
No I never thought a bout is, but for sure I always keep it until I have the photo I want. The funny thing is that some sketch I draw on some of my subject not book or maybe on my exam paper!!
(*6*) 'uppermost in your mind' - The most important thing you are thinking about.
OK…if I have a sketches for the photo I am taking I tried to make view of the photo as near as I can to the sketch. But is I don't I think I don't think about any thing at all. I even sometime don't breath when I take the shot .. you know what I mean.
(*7*) Do you have a lot of your photos decorating the house? Where are they?
Yes .. in my room, kitchen, Also in my friends room!! In their house.
(*8*) A lovely example.
(*9*) I loved both the photo and the cover. Thank you very much.
(*10*) Is this like one of your preparation sketches?
Yes they mostly look like this.
(*11*) I'll check it out. Thanks
(*12*) A wall calendar is a calendar with all the months of the year on the bottom half and a big photo on the top half. Every month has a different photo and you turn the pages as each month passes. The brother of one of my friends emigrated to Australia and started financing his photography with wall calendars. That was 15 years ago and he still produces one every year which sells thousands of copies.
I am thinking a bout that and also to have some card which has my photo in, But I am a fried that want have people satisfactory.

In conclusion I would like to once again give the students the opportunity to voice their opinions. The comments below have been chosen at random and are quoted here with the permission of the students.
- It is a great idea, I really like it.
- It has many advantages. First it is a good way of conection between me and the teacher. It is improving my writing and increasing my knowledge.
- I like it. It learns you how to expand your writting in different ways (by new vocabularies, grammer and so on).
- At first (before starting to write them) I feared they could be lots of boring writing. But now, I find it lots of fun and very useful because it helps. I'm not sure how but I know it's helpful.
- Now I relly enjoy it. However, sometimes it took me more than one hours to answer it, if I repeat certain points several times it seems boring.
- I get to know you as a person rather than a teacher. We students sometimes (often!) forget that teachers have a human side. It's interesting to get to know how you think and I guess you feel the same. I can't put it down (or stop writing) whenever I start. I love the way one thing lead to another. I mean, I'm talking about death, UFO's and now politics (Gulf war part 2). You just can't figure out: what's next? It is really wonderful.
- Although I don't like writting. The journals makes writting easy. The most interesting part is after I wrote the journals, I really looking forward to read your comment. I wrote things that I have never written or tried to express before. Know I try to think of the questions that might arise in the next entry so I make life easier and just write the answers.
- I can't stop writing. I like it very much. I think it will be better if it is like a conversation not you are asking and I am answering.
English never seemed more interesting.
- I got fed up of this journal. At first I was so excited to write. I think that was because it was a new thing to me. A new way to express my feelings but then after I said or mentioned everything I never tried to say before I got fed up. I don't have anything that interests me a lot any more to write about.
- It is a good way to practice writting daily, and I enjoy it a lot because we choose the topics we wont to write about.
- The first thing I learn which I need in English is the vocabulary.
- I think that I am writing to a friend because no one force me to write.
- My class mates and I all received the same questions to start with but after the first entry, we all have totally different journals.

As I final footnote, I would simply like to add that if this paper has tempted you to try out journals with your classes, then I have succeeded in what I set out to do.