Student diaries

My friend Grace started using diaries at summer school a few years ago. Pretty soon the whole school was using them to great effect. They’re easy to make, interesting homework and can really inform your teaching.

Easy to make

I use 4 pieces of white A4 paper and a coloured sheet for the cover. Fold over, staple together and you’re ready to go. Encourage students to personalise and decorate their diary

Constructive and interesting 

Make it clear that students can write about whatever they want in their diary, but that you’re going to read it, so it shouldn’t be anything they don’t want you to see! 
I often get really interesting diary entries. They tell me what activities they enjoyed doing in class, what they did at the weekend, why they’re so tired, about family births, marriges and deaths. Students often really open up and it gives an invaluable window into their lives.

Inform your teaching

From a teaching perspective, it also shows you what kind of errors students are making and informs you on what you need to address in class.
You can guide the diaries somewhat if you want to find out about a particular language point. Let’s say you’ve been working on reported speech in class…

Okay, this week write whatever you want as usual, but I’d also like you to include an interesting conversation you had this week. Use reported speech to tell me what happened in the conversation.

Other considerations

  • It doesn’t have to be on paper – you could have students email you regularly or even set up a blog!
  • Make sure you respond to what they’re writing, not just correct the errors and tick. Students want to know that you’ve read their work, otherwise what’s the point of them writing it? One of the comments from a student this summer confirmed this for me…

    I didn’t pay him to write this! And he wrote ‘said too much’ because he had been telling me about a girl he fancied at the summer school. 
  • Experiment with diaries and write a comment on this post to let me know how yours are going and what you’ve adapted for your group! Set a minimum amount to write, as less-motivated students may try and get away with writing as little as possible. I have a box where students can leave their diaries. They have to leave them at least once a week, but if they want them checked more often then they can leave them after every class. I promise to get it back to them as soon as I can, but at least once a week,
  • Persevere! Some students don’t react well immediately and others write like demons to start with and then it tails off. Keep going and respond to what they write.

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