"I don't know what to write about."
What teacher hasn't heard this complaint when it's time to do do some journal writing in class? One way to preempt the whining is to have your students generate a list of potential stories at the start of the term.
Before beginning this activity, we talk about family stories that come up around the dinner table, and at family reunions. It can be a story they know about a relative, or one about themselves. I always shared a quick story or two that I planned to write about in my journal during the coming year. (Yes, I tried to write alongside them, showing by example that I believe writing is important.) Then I modeled what I would write in my journal to remind me about that story.
The goal is to write a list comprising of a short phrase that will allow them to recall the story later. Writing down DOG isn't going to be as effective as When Fido Got Lost. They should think of the stories they would tell the family when they get home from school, or the anecdotes they like to share with friends about things that have happened to them.
This is an activity that stirs up some excitement and enthusiasm for intermediate elementary students. All you need is a bell. I had an old-fashioned service bell like businesses provide at the front desk, but any hand-held bell or noise maker would work. This can get a little crazy, so you need to set your expectations at the beginning about noise level and commotion.
Their goal is to come up with as many journal topics as possible in a five minute (or ten minute) period of time. Once the clock starts, as soon as they have listed five topics, they have earned the right to DING the bell. (Warning: this may not be a day you want to have an official evaluation by an administrator, but it will save you a lot of headaches throughout the year.) The kids seem to love getting to ring the bell, and they tend to write furiously to get the next five ideas on paper so they can get back to the dinger.
Students need a blank page in their journal for this activity. While discussing possible topics for journal writing, I list the general headings suggested by their specific topics on the board. This is not a competition, so by talking about stories beforehand, students will be able to piggyback off of each other's ideas.
ACCIDENTS AND ILLNESSES
We talk about the difference in making a list, and writing sentences. A few students unclear on the directions, have written out full sentences.
This is an activity that could be done several times throughout the year.