The Journal Topics

journals photoToday members of our Expository Composition class wrote their final journal entries and handed in their well-worn spiral notebooks. I’m so proud of how many words and pages they wrote, and the profound wisdom and entertaining writing found in those notebooks.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about integrating journal writing into a writing class, how I set it up, grade it, etc. As some readers know, for the past few semesters I have posted our class journal topic on Twitter each day, and it’s always fun when someone tweets a response. Thanks to those who have played along.

Recently I’ve had some requests for the list of journal topics I have used. So, here it is.

Some of these are adapted from other sources, but I’m a little worried that some of the topics listed below are borrowed from sources that I’ve forgotten. If you see something I should attribute to someone else, please do me a favor and let me know.

Those familiar with Natalie Goldberg’s work will immediately see her influence on this list. In some cases, I know exactly who inspired it, and I’ve provided attribution in those cases.

I hope this list helps teachers and inspires young writers to think and write deeply about their influences, outlooks, and experiences.

The Journal Topics

Begin with this:  I remember …

Begin with this:  I don’t remember …

Tell about your favorite clothing item.

Tell about something that happened near water.

Tell about when you’re most comfortable.

Tell about the time you didn’t go.

Tell about a trait you probably inherited.

Tell about when you feel awkward.

Tell about when you feel confident.

Tell about when you don’t want to be disturbed.

Tell about a work of art (painting, song, film, poem, etc.) that has meant something to you.

Tell how you knew it was over.

Tell what normal means.

Tell about green.

Tell about a memorable car ride.

Tell about something someone (maybe you) said yesterday that is still relevant today.

Tell about what you don’t understand.

Tell about the games you like (or don’t like) to play.

Tell about something from your refrigerator.

Tell how to do something that you do really well.

Tell about what isn’t fair.

Tell about entering a place you go frequently.

Should we expect to be rewarded for doing the right thing?

Tell about your luck.

No words today. Just draw.

Tell about when you tried to be perfect.

Tell about the difference between passion and obsession.

Tell about a memorable meal.

Tell what you think about at night.

Begin with this: I Am From …

Tell about something that starts with B.

Tell about your ideal college.

Tell about an argument.

Tell about your stress.

What else do you need?

Write a 26-sentence alphabet entry. The first sentence should begin with A, the second sentence with B, all the way through to the last sentence beginning with Z.

Tell how you survived.

Do males and females learn differently?

If you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do right now?

Tell about trust.

How are you intelligent? (from Sir Ken Robinson in The Element)

What food or drink best represents your personality?

What’s your subplot?

Tell how your hair has changed over time.

Tell about candy.

Tell about a number.

Tell about something you got for free.

Tell about something from an animal’s point of view.

Tell about leftovers.

Tell about your perfect day of school.  (from Bryan Dunn)

Tell about when you were surprised.

Tell about your favorite elementary school memory.

Tell about something annoying.

Tell about the last thing you bought.

Tell about something that makes you laugh.

Tell about something dangerous.

What are you waiting for?

Tell about the name you would choose for yourself.

Tell about a change you would like to see in your school.

Tell about what you’ve never been asked.

Tell about a time you couldn’t see.

Tell about something you’ve always wanted.

Tell about something red (or read).

Tell about something shady.

Tell about your school supplies.

Tell about a baby.

Without complaining, tell why you felt (or feel) stuck.

Write in praise of something not usually praised–fleas, garbage, mold, etc.

Tell about a first meeting.

Tell about something soft.

Tell about something hot.

Tell about something with wings.

Tell about something sweet.

Tell about an interesting non-English word or phrase.

Tell about a person you see regularly but don’t really know.

Tell what you wish more people knew about you.

Tell about what surprised you.

Tell about how you get your news.

Tell about something that flames or burns.

What worked for you?

Tell about something that makes you happy.

Tell about something cold.

Tell about shoes.

Tell about what you tried to fix.

Some have suggested that a way to prevent school violence is for teachers to carry guns. Tell what you think about this idea.

Tell about your music.

Begin with this:  I’m glad my name isn’t …

Tell about unfamiliar territory.

Tell about something metallic.

Tell about a favorite childhood toy.

Tell about a piece of jewelry.

Tell about your hands.

What will you do differently next time?

Tell about something you collect.

Tell about wearing high heels or neckties.

Tell about what doesn’t matter.

Tell about one of your responsibilities.

Tell what you would do if you were invisible for a day.

Look through your journal. Tell about what you see in there.

Tell about what makes a teacher effective or ineffective.

Tell about something minor that turned major.

Write the apology you should give, or receive.

Begin with this: “I used to believe…”

Do we get the lives we deserve?

Begin with this:  No thank you. (from Natalie Goldberg)

Tell about what you see in the mirror.

Tell about a smell you encounter frequently.

Begin with this:  What if…

Tell what you like best about yourself.

What do you have stored or saved?

Begin with this:  I want to be ____ because _____.

What did you recently realize?

Tell about your favorite lie.

Tell about your favorite picture of yourself.

Tell about when you won.

Make a list of all you’ve learned in the past week, in school and out.

Tell how you want to live.

Tell about an interesting family member.

Tell about the best advice you have received (or given).

Tell about something someone said yesterday that is still relevant today.

Make a list of your strongly held beliefs.

Tell about your favorite animal.

Rewrite an ending.

What is a current trend (fashion, music, media, technology, etc.) that you particularly like or dislike?

Tell about yourself as a little kid. How are you still kind of the same? How are you different?

Tell about something you earned.

In one page, tell about your mother or father.

Tell about one of your dreams.

Tell about a class that should be offered at your school.

Tell about being alone.

Tell about the name you would choose for yourself.

Tell about what you eat.

Tell about your manners.

Tell about the oldest person you have known.

Who do you believe (or not believe)?

Tell the president/principal/governor/mayor how she’s/he’s doing.

Choose one word for this year and tell about your choice.

If you could make one rule that would be strictly enforced in the community around you, what would it be?

Tell about someone important to you. Include all 5 senses. (from Kathryn Janicek)

What is your FREMD acrostic–F is for …, R is for …, etc. (“Fremd” is our school.)

Tell a true story involving a liquid other than water.

Tell about Fridays.

Tell about a disguise or costume you once wore (inspired by Natalie Goldberg).

Begin with this:  I wish I had more time to …

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?

Tell about someone you’re glad you know.

Tell about something you think is infinite.

Tell what it would take for you to be more like _____.

Do you consider yourself young? (inspired by Alyse Liebovich)

Tell about what you choose.

Tell about a promise.

Begin with this: “Today I …” (inspired by Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock)

Tell how you begin.

Tell how to impress you.

Tell where you turn for inspiration.

What makes you happy?

Tell about when you make a positive difference.

Tell about fame.

Begin with this: Home is …

What are you looking forward to the most?

Tell about what people take too seriously.

Tell about the cast in the movie version of your life.

Tell about something you do most days that is different from most students.

Tell about a fresh start.

Tell about how you are tested.

Tell about being wrongly accused.

Tell about a holiday you don’t completely understand.

Who gets your sympathy?

What are you getting better at?

Play around with making one of your earlier journal entries into a poem.

Tell about your state.

Begin with this: I am your brain, and I …

Tell why you might dig a hole.

Tell about what made this school year memorable?

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6 Responses to The Journal Topics

  1. glenda funk says:

    Thanks so much for the list, Gary. Since my district has been on trimesters, I’ve sacrificed journal writing and quick writes. I’m reclaiming them next year and sacrificing something else (probably whole-class common texts). Something always has to give to make room for something else.


  2. Joy Kirr says:

    This, my friend (and mentor), is phenomenal. THANK YOU!


  3. Kathleen R says:

    Wow! Amazing list of writing prompts!


  4. Gary: I think I need these as much as my kids do. Long year, not much time to reflect. I can get right back at it w my kids in September.Thanks


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