“I don’t know what to write about.”
How many times have you heard that when you ask students to start a new assignment or write in their daily writing journal?
Not knowing where to start is a common stumbling block. Some students dread writing and get blocked before they begin. Others will do okay if they can just get started. Sentence starters or daily journal prompts can get the ball rolling.
Why use daily journal prompts
Writing journals can be a good place to work on idea generation. Remind students that morning journal prompts are not meant to be perfect. Let them start with a list. Remind them it can be messy and imperfect. That’s how writers start, getting words on the page, even when they aren’t sure what to write about. Later, students can develop ideas more, work on sentence structure, fix spelling and punctuation. First, they just need to get words on the page.
Daily journal prompts can help students explore different kinds of writing. Use a mix of daily journal prompts so students can try their hand at writing to entertain, instruct, persuade, recount, and socialize.
Daily writing practice can help students build writing fluency, share ideas, and even practice phonics and vocabulary. All of that only happens if students are writing. If students balk even with a prompt, have them write the prompt at the top of the page. That gets their pen or pencil moving and they are no longer staring at a fully blank page.
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Daily journal prompts to get kids started
Sometimes even just a word can help students start writing. Try oneword — students get one word and 60 seconds to write. Try this as a warm up to get the juices flowing. You could give your own riff word too. It might help to model the process.
Write your word at the top of the board. Set a time for 60 seconds and start writing. You might start with a list and then let something pull you into a memory. Whatever comes up.
For example, if the word were blue, you might write: blue sky, blue sea, blue eyes, blueberries Last summer we picked blueberries. It was a sunny, hot day, and the berries were so good — I had to eat some while we picked. We made blueberry muffins for breakfast and the berries were plump and juicy and burst in your mouth. The tops of the muffins were crisp with cinnamon and sugar. Yum. I want to do that again.
Point out how you started with a list and then shifted into an idea. You could even do a class brainstorm on a word before kids start writing.
Or start with a more specific prompt like one of these.
1. Something brushed up against my foot.
2. Suddenly, the window slammed shut.
3. Living in a tent would be fun because…
4. I wish I could…
5. If I found a pot of gold…
6. It was the scariest thing she had ever seen.
7. Cleaning my room is…
8. If I were a dragon …
9. Over the weekend, I …
10. Someone must have broken the window.
11. Are you happy today, why?
12. What’s the bravest or stupidest thing you ever did?
13. Should students have more homework? Give reasons.
14. What is your favorite part of the day? Why?
15. If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
Form and subject
16. Write a mini book about a broken boat.
17. List your favorite foods. Write the recipe for one of these, or share a specific memory of the food.
18. List true sentences that begin with the words: I should have never… Expand one into a story.
19. Send a postcard from Treasure Island.
20. Write a poem about balloons.
21. Write a diary entry about something that you can do now that you couldn’t do a year ago.
22. Create a character profile. Include name, age, appearance, strengths/weaknesses, likes/dislikes, family and friends, and hopes and fears.
23. Think about a favorite book. Write a recommendation for the book.
24. Imagine you are an advice columnist. Write a question about friendship. Then write the response.
25. Create an invitation to your dream party.
26. Write true sentences that begin with the words: I’ll never forget… Recount one of those events in a letter to a friend.
27. Describe your favorite toy.
28. Create a comic strip about mice.
29. Choose a game or sport and explain how to play it.
You can adapt any of these daily journal prompts to support other learning happening in your classroom. For example, in prompt 16 (Write a minibook about a broken boat), you can swap in other words from your phonics or vocabulary list like brave whale or a melancholy monkey.) You can have students write from the point of view of a character or historical figure.
You could also have students use certain phonics words in their responses. Looking for more writing prompts? Phonics Writing Prompts with Word Bank Bundle has you covered. The bundle includes 23 different writing sets, each targeting a phonics sound with word banks using all of the different spelling patterns. Each set includes 10 different writing activities that cover writing to entertain, instruct, persuade, recount, and socialize.
No more “I don’t know what to write about.” Make writing fun again and give kids the phonics practice they need!