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Motivated Autonomous Writers: Using Dialog Journals in the EL Class

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by Joanna Machinska | 28 May 2021
Resource Description: It is sometimes difficult to encourage EL students to write. As most of the students prefer speaking, teachers can motivate them to write by using a tool called the Dialog Journal. Here is more about what it is and how to use it with students.
Audience: Elementary, Secondary
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Intermediate
Teaching Tip:

Dialog journal - What is it?

1. Dialog journals' function goes beyond regular diaries. They create an interaction very similar to the speech, where the speaker/ writer continually makes adjustments in order to be understood (Linnell 2010). Usually the student writes on a given topic or topic of student's choice and then the teacher writes an individual response.

2. Journals' language mimics speech, and is much more informal than academic writing. It permits an authentic and lively conversation between an instructor and a student (Uduma 2011; Werderich 2002).

BENEFITS OF A DIALOG JOURNAL IN THE CLASSROOM SETTING

  • students develop understanding of the concept of communication and develop their writing skills
  • authenticity of this student-teacher conversation, as well as practicing freely without fear of being corrected, all results in fast progress in students writing abilities 
  • for the teacher, the dialog journal creates a new way to understand the students. Sharing insights on current topics and students' life can help to bond the group
  • for shy students it would be an opportunity to talk (Larrotta 2008)

How to use it?

There are numerous ways of using dialog journal.

  • It can be used for exploring their knowledge about the upcoming class discussion. For non-native English speakers, private interaction with a new topic could give them necessary time to reflect and gather their thoughts.
  • The journal can also serve as a platform for self-reflection at the end of the unit. If students feel comfortable, some parts of it could be read aloud in the class for their peers.
  • Any current topics at any time could be as well introduced by the teacher. This experimenting in writing about themselves, students move towards literacy and ability to use English fluently even outside of the classroom.

FLUENCY BEFORE ACCURACY

  • As the main goal of the dialog journal is to encourage fluency, and motivate to freely express in English, accuracy is not the priority.
  • Students are encouraged to experiment and play with the language, which allows independent learning and the sense of learner's autonomy.
  • For that reason, teachers should resist the urge to control the writings. Knowing they will not be corrected, students enjoy the free writing.
  • Though it is more about the content than a structure, the teacher can still give mini-lessons on frequently occurring grammatical errors. It can be done by showing anonymous sentences and demonstrating correct usage. 
  • Modeling correct writing is one of the roles for the teachers. Write to your students well structured responses with no grammar errors, and try to personalize each response. 

 

References:

Larrotta, C. 2008. Written conversations with Hispanic adults developing English literacy. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal 2 (1): 13-23.

Linnell, K.M.  2010. Using dialog journals to focus on form.  Journal of Adult Education 39 (1): 23-28.

Uduma, E. O. 2011. Journal keeping in an ESL classroom: An innovative approach in language learning. Journal of Education and Practice 2 (6): 59-63.

Werderich, D.E., 2002. Individualized responses: Using journal letters as a vehicle for differentiated reading instruction. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 45 (8): 746-54.