Journal Writing with First Graders: Book of the Week GIVEAWAY

April 26, 2011

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Book of the Week GIVEAWAY: My Tooth Is About to Fall Out by Grace Maccarone

When it comes to writing with young children, I’ve found that creative writing is overrated. (Hold your judgment for one minute, please no nasty grams.) Have you ever tried to write a story or a poem? It’s HARD! That’s why most of us are not published authors. Yes, young children have a colorful imagination but when you’re still learning how to read and write, it is difficult to put your creative ideas into words on paper. I much prefer to let children write about their every day lives. That is why I like this early reader about a familiar experience for most first graders; loosing a tooth. I like reading books about every day life to children and then asking, “Does this remind you of anything that has happened to you? Maybe you’d like to write about that today.”

Just for the record, this was the third tooth MacGyver lost. After loosing his first tooth he asked, “How much will the Tooth Fairy put under my pillow?” Since Mommy’s answer was, “I’m not sure. When I was a little girl, she left a few coins.” He decided the money wasn’t worth something so interesting as his teeth. So he kept his first teeth in a baggy and examined them often.

Journal Writing with First Graders


  • bound journal with lined paper

I’ve created journal paper similar to Handwriting Without Tears.

My paper for first graders has a line for the date, room for an illustration and lines for writing.

Print journal paper FREE: printable journal paper

You can also use an inexpensive spiral journal.

  • pencil, markers, crayons or colored pencils
  • lots and lots of good books for reading aloud

How to:

  • I always begin the school year and journal writing with the same basic steps: 10 Easy Steps to Introduce Journal Writing
  • With MacGyver, we began first grade journal writing right where we had left off in Kindergarten. We even used the same journal. It is bound on the long horizontal edge and does not have lines.

First day of journal writing in first grade, MacGyver wrote about a special memory. We used the opposite page of his journal as a practice page. On this day, we sounded out “boat” and practiced his letter formation. This post was done as interactive writing experience between the two of us. He wrote what he could and I jumped in and wrote the tricky parts.

For this journal entry, MacGyver collected plants and pressed them in his journal. Once again, the writing was done as an interactive experience between the two of us. He wrote what he could (familiar easy words and the sounds he could hear) and I jumped in and wrote the tricky parts.

Especially at the beginning of the year, I want journal writing to be engaging and fun! We’ve got a whole year (heck twelve years) to get serious! I certainly don’t want journal writing to be intimidating right off the bat.

The practice page above his journal entry shows exactly what our writing mini-lessons were for the day. Using sound boxes, we sounded out both “to” and “go”. Then MacGyver learned the word “to” by writing it several times; when I was teaching Reading Recovery we called this “taking a word to fluency.” I also taught him that if he can write the word “go” he can also write the word “going.” So much learning in such a little amount of time!

Those of you in the classroom have already rolled your eyes saying, “Hey lady, I have 25 students, not just one!” Yep, been there, done that too. You’re right things are much different in the classroom. So this is how things went in the classroom for me: Each day during journal writing, I sat with four or five students. As they drew and wrote in their journals, I interacted with them, just as I do with MacGyver. The only difference is at home I’m answering the phone, cooking lunch, doing the laundry, potty training Miss Engima .  .  .  So while I don’t have 25 students, I still have plenty distractions!

Just as in kindergarten, our theme studies are incorporated into our journal writing.

When January rolled around, I felt MacGyver was ready for lined paper and longer journal entries. He moved into a new journal bound vertically with a line for his date, room for an illustration and lines for writing. I print the pages myself and have them bound at a print shop. I am a big believer in drawing as a form of brainstorming. MacGyver’s illustration time really helps him gather his thoughts and plan his writing.

MacGyver still uses a practice page; however now it is the blank page to the left in his journal. Again, you can easily see all of our mini-lessons for the day. This practice page goes with his entry above about the airplanes having a war. (No his mother did not teach him about airplanes having a war! Boys just seem to pick this stuff up.)

MacGyver’s journals are full of special memories. Some day he’ll be able to read this entry and remember his Grandpa and all of the time he spent learning important “stuff” from Grandpa.

For those of you who don’t know MacGyver, he is a late bloomer when it comes to reading and writing. Putting this post together was a good reflection time for me as his mother and teacher. From the first journal entry in first grade to those at the end of the year, I can see the enormous progress he made in one year. And I was actually surprised by the variety of the entries included in his journal.There were memories, true facts, fantasies, songs, thank you notes, lists, math . . . and actually less entries about dinosaurs than I expected.

Some Important Lessons I’ve learned about Journal Writing with First Graders:

  1. Be patient!
  2. Read aloud every day!
  3. Don’t expect the children to have a topic to write about. Talk, talk, and talk some more about every day experiences and memories.
  4. Let children brainstorm through their illustrations.
  5. Use a practice page and sound boxes.
  6. Interact with children when they are writing.
  7. Model writing for the children often.
  8. Keep writing personal.
  9. Keep writing fun.
  10. Accept that some days, getting children to write is like pulling teeth. :)

Life with Jeannine

We’re GIVING AWAY one copy of the early Scholastic Reader My Tooth Is About to Fall Out by Grace Maccarone.

To enter this contest, just answer the following question in the comments section of this post.

Do you remember losing your first tooth? My sisters locked me in the bathroom, while I screamed they yanked it out! I’ll have to admit it really didn’t hurt. But I sure did scream for my mother locked on the other side of the door! (Or just say “Hey.” We’re flexible around here.)

The Rules:

One entry per person, please.

No entries after 8:00 pm Central Time, Thursday, April 28, 2011

The winner must be a resident of The United States.

The winner will be selected at random and announced Friday, April 29, 2011. Check back it might be you!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie April 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I enjoy reading about the journal writing and looking at the entries. I completely don’t remember losing my first tooth :)

Tara April 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

This post is so full of information that I’m going to have to reread it ALOT! Thanks again for all the ideas!
I don’t remember losing my first tooth. I do remember losing one at daycare though…I swallowed it with my milk! :)

Robin April 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Do not remember the first tooth falling out, but I do remember my kiddo’s first tooth falling out. One was happy and felt all grown up and the other oh so traumatic..

Jackie April 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Great post. I love how you include real writing samples. I don’t remember losing my first tooth- I’m sure I blocked it out. I do remember my first year of teaching a sweet girl came up to me and showed me her bloody tooth and I replied with, “Gross! Go to the nurse.” My teaching partner was in the room and told me I might want to work on my empathy a little. I think I got better at handling those things in time… prepared me for my current job of mommy!

Merelyn - Real Kid Friendly May 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I’m not sure if it was my first but for at least one of my teeth, my grandmother tied a string around it, tied the string to a door, and slammed the door!! Talk about traumatic! BTW, it didn’t work b/c I grabbed the string in mid-swing – just prolonging the inevitable.

Hailey April 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I don’t remember losing my first tooth, but I do remember haivng one come out when I was eating an apple…ouch!

P.s. Love the journaling ideas!

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