Journals A.K.A. Volcano Write

I’m going to do another post about some of the writing I’ve come across during my practicum with seventh-graders at Northwest Jr. High. I still can’t believe I only have two weeks left of practicum! Anyway…without further ado:

The language arts teachers at Northwest do a form of regular writing called “volcano write.” My coop says that the actual assignment varies from teacher to teacher, but this is how she does it in her classroom: every other week, students write for 15 minutes in their composition notebooks about whatever they want. Sometimes she gives them a prompt that they can (but aren’t required to) use, such as rolling a die with letters on each side to give them a beginning letter for their writing, or a little figurine like a frog or a British-style red phone booth to spark some inspiration from writers who need a little help. Some students write about what’s going on in their lives, some write short stories (some of which continue through three, four, or even five different volcano writes!). They are graded on amount written, since the goal is to write continuously for 15 minutes. The grades for these journal entries are out of 20 points, and to get maximum points, they should have one full front page and half of another page written. The points go down from there, losing a point every few lines down to around 12/20 points if they have managed to write only 5 lines or so. There are also some exceptions, for example, some students have college ruled notebooks or small handwriting, so they receive more points for less “space” taken. They are not graded on grammar or content at all. This past Friday, I got to read the volcano writes for one of the classes I observe. I was so very excited. 🙂 I figured it would give me a better idea of what writing for this age group (12-13) looks like aside from the formula poems and name reports I’ve seen so far.

It definitely gave me an insight into the lives and brains of “my” students. And I was amazed. Almost every entry I looked at was at least a page long, even for the students who usually do not seem very interested or motivated in class. I was also very impressed with the creativity of my students, a side of them that is more difficult for me to see during the average school day. Many of them wrote fictional stories, and these kids knew how to write! Their grammar was not perfect, there were spelling errors, some of the handwriting was a bit difficult to read, but it was so obvious to me that these kids are much better writers than I am. Yes, I can write a grammatically correct and neat paper, but I don’t have the ability (though I’m working on it!) to write so creatively. Journaling has been a topic I’ve given quite a bit of thought to throughout this semester, but now I *know* without a doubt that it will have a special place in my future classroom. I think it is essential to give students a place and time to just write about whatever they want, to know that they can write freely and without worrying about every little comma or spelling error.

Sadly, during about an hour and half period of time, I only made it through one class period of entries…Why? Because I wanted to read them ALL and I was looking at 3 entries from each student. I really need to learn to skim them, but the writing was so interesting that I really wanted to read them fully! I ended up settling for reading 1 of the 3 entries of each student (aside from grading based on how much the student had written for each) and leaving a comment somewhere on that one entry, whether it was “Oh, that sounds awesome!” or “wow! that’s a really great phrase!” It was a very enjoyable Friday, and a very valuable learning experience. I can’t stand to think that I only have 4 days left of practicum with “my” students in this configuration, as this is this last week in the first trimester, so next week will be classes of probably 50/50 kids I do know with kids I don’t know. I’m going to miss them, that’s for sure!



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5 responses to “Journals A.K.A. Volcano Write

  1. Keeley Thode

    I agree that having students write in journals is a great way for students to explore their own writing. As a student myself, I have always enjoyed journaling because this gave me opportunities to write about things that I was interested in, instead of being forced to write about. Thanks for the post!

  2. Madella Smith

    Very cool! I’m glad you feel so positive about journals. Have you noticed whether that creative writing is transferred into class writing? Do the students who are excited about volcano writing like doing non-fiction writing? How often do they do volcano writing? I never had a class with journal writing so I’m not entirely sure how it works (how often, etc.)

  3. I understand that they just want students to just write and so quantity is valued over quality, but the one worry I would have for a system like this is that some students would be disposed to slow and deliberate writing and would be counted down despite having really worked hard at it. Aside form that though, it’s exciting to know that the creative writing of students is being valued not just in a single class but in the whole school and that the students are benefiting from it. Thanks for sharing!


  4. I’m glad you enjoyed the journals! It sounds very cool. I personally hope to use journals in my classroom because I think they are a good way to get students thinking and for teachers to look at students’ thinking.

  5. Breana Shelton

    Hmm…I’m not really sure I agree with the points system being based on amount. I know there are days when I really struggle to come up with anything to write, or when I finally do, I’ve run out of time to write much. I guess, on the other hand, it might force someone to do some “bad writing” which could potentially generate something more. And there, of course, has to be some way of grading them. *sigh* Obviously I don’t have a better idea. :o)

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