When we were homeschooling, I absolutely loved writing across the curriculum with my kiddos. It was such a natural way for them to write about the very things we were studying for history, geography, or science.
I’m excited to share one of our family’s favorite writing exercises—journaling with a twist—where kids write first-person diary entries as if they were someone (or something!) else. This is a great activity for kids of all ages—kindergarten through high school, pre-writers or prolific, reluctant or motivated.
I LOVE that this basic concept can be applied again and again throughout the year, no matter what you’re learning about! One particular year, when my kids were in 2nd, 5th, and 8th grades, we must have done this writing activity half a dozen times, spending 3-10 days on each topic. So whether you’re studying ancient Greece or Egypt, the Reformation, the Civil War, or animals of the desert, consider this fun exercise for drawing more topic-related writing from your kids. Here’s how:
Read about the Topic
First, read a passage, excerpt, article, or short book on a particular subject (the Pilgrims’ experience aboard the Mayflower, how black bears fish for salmon, how Hebrew slaves made bricks for the pyramids, how spiders spin webs). Read aloud to your younger child while allowing older children to read on their own.
This is NOT the time to read the entire story of Columbus! Break long narratives like this into segments, reading just a portion a day—an excerpt about his childhood, perhaps, or his audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. If necessary, read several passages about the same subject to give a broader perspective or to provide more detail. An encyclopedia article may have two or three sentences about a narrow topic. A book, however, may offer several pages or even a whole chapter about it.
Pre-Writers Can Narrate Their Journal Entries
Next, have a reluctant or pre-writer narrate the information while you write. Ask him to tell the story in first person. Remind him that he is the early Christian hiding in the catacombs of Rome or the lion hunting in the Serengeti. Encourage him to walk a mile in his subject’s shoes (or paws!), and to imagine what it would be like to be in this situation, this place, this moment in time.
Prompt a child by asking, “What did we just read? What was this story or article about?” Draw out of him feelings and experiences he may have if he were this particular person or animal. “How did you feel when you heard the guard’s footsteps?” “How did you know which zebra to pick?” Feel free to give him a word bank from which to choose vocabulary. Write down his narration word-for-word.
Here’s an example from my then-7-year-old.
- Dear Journal,
- Today we went fishing! Mommy and me went down to the stream and she walked right into that cold water and watched the water with her sharp eyes. Then she swooped with her long claws. Then she catched a fish with her claws! And then it was my turn and I went into the stream and it was SO, SO cold! I saw a fish swimming near me so I swooped with my little paw and I missed. I just splashed water. But I tried again and on my second time I catched my own fish! Mommy was proud of me for learning how to fish all by myself.
- From Bear Cub
Doesn’t that sound more fun than writing a report about how bears fish? Yet the important information is still there!
Planning a Series of Journal Entries
This journaling activity is especially useful when you want to interlace writing and history. One year, my kids retold the Pilgrims’ journey in their own words just as if they had been Pilgrim children, choosing names for themselves appropriate for the time period—John, Faith, and Prudence. Every day we read something new about the Pilgrim experience—a snapshot to give them just enough to write about in a diary. Here’s what we read about each day:
- Day 1: Persecution in England
- Day 2: Journey to Holland
- Day 3: Eleven years later, preparing to leave for the New World
- Day 4: Hardship aboard the Mayflower
- Day 5: Land sighted!
- Day 6: The men go ashore to find food
- Day 7: Building Plymouth Settlement
- Day 8: The harsh first winter
- Day 9: Samoset greets the elders
- Day 10: The first Thanksgiving
Older or Confident Students Can Write Their Own Entries
Here’s one of my then-10-year-old daughter’s journal entries as a Pilgrim whom she called Faith.
- Dear Journal,
- Governor Bradford declared a feast to thank God for all He has done. We were all very happy. It has been a long, difficult year. We women had three days to cook and get prepared for the feast. We plucked and stuffed and roasted the fowl. We made stew in great pots. We also made sallet out of wild onions, lettuce, cucumbers and carrots. Meat pies were a favorite. We also had eel, many fish, and shellfish.
- We invited Chief Massasoit. And with him he brought 90 braves! We didn’t have enough food so the Indians went out and brought back five deer! After the feast there was singing and dancing and games. It was a joyous celebration!
Look for Opportunities to Journal with a Twist
The possibilities for your child are limitless! She can journal for one day or for ten. She can write as she “experiences” the life cycle of a butterfly or a maple tree. Or she can journal as an explorer, a pioneer, a disciple of Jesus, or an Egyptian servant to the wife of Pharaoh. The point is to help your child take in a small amount of information about a topic or event and make it personal. Over the course of several days or a week, the amount of information learned will grow. And in time, your child will produce many memorable diaries stamped with her own personality and style.
Copyright © 2008 by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
Looking for a more structured program to incorporate writing writing across the curriculum? WriteShop lessons can help your teens learn important writing skills while offering flexibility of topics. Visit our website at writeshop.com to learn more!