You are on page 1of 8

Louden 1 Benefits of the Five-Minute Journal Donna Louden The five-minute journal is a form of focused freewriting

with which I start each meeting of my composition courses. A few minutes before the beginning of class, I write a topic on the board and place a small alarm clock on the instructor’s table at the front of the room. As soon as my students arrive, they write a response to the topic, knowing that five minutes after the official start of class, the alarm will sound and I will erase the board, collect their assignments, and put these papers away. After this point, journal responses placed on the table are late and receive half credit, 50 percent. Certainly, I am not doing anything original: Writers and writing teachers appreciate how timed exercises like this one develop written fluency. Three composition textbooks at hand suggest and describe freewriting in some form as an initial stage in the writing process (Axelrod and Cooper 579-580; Hacker 7; Reid 34). However, the fiveminute journal has numerous additional benefits, particularly as an assessment tool, that make it a worthwhile activity in composition classes, especially those for non-native speakers of English. The advantages of frequent writing practice are already well understood but merit further consideration before a discussion of other uses of the five-minute journal. Written fluency-facility in expressing oneself through writing--is of particular concern in my classes. I teach ESOL, English for speakers of other languages, at the University of Texas at El Paso. Almost all of my students are Spanish speakers, and thus do not need English to communicate with one another in my classes. Because the university and the surrounding community are Spanish/English bilingual, these students lack the total language immersion experience from which foreign students benefit at other universities. The five minutes that my students spend freewriting can be the only time in their day when they are required to think in English. Even if my students were better motivated to use their developing English, they would continue to benefit as writers from the practice provided by five-minute journal. A composition

about one third of my students ignore this assignment. This assignment provides a frequent and valuable opportunity for me to respond to what students are saying without the added concern of how they are saying it. If they are to be successful writers. easily. reflecting the message back to him or her. I let my students know that I welcome what they have to say. including the final exam. and one day of writing in class for the final exam essay. Therefore.” and “Explain some 1 For this estimate. I reserve only about forty days out of a fifteen-week semester for composing essays. nonetheless. complimentary. For example. Students tell me they feel the journal helps them complete written assignments in all their classes more quickly. I provide intermediary deadlines that require parts of and completed rough drafts to be turned in before an essay is due. in two of my courses. I write a comment of one or two sentences on every journal that is long enough to communicate a message. Through some prompts. I encourage students to explore ideas during the planning stages of the writing process. and so on. students tend to write these assignments immediately before submitting them. admiring. rather than writing a little each day.Louden 2 class does not necessarily provide enough writing practice. and I observe that they in turn enjoy reading my comments. I use the five-minute journal as a means of communication. these students need time to write in class. In short. for example in topic selection and thesis formation and development. and confidently.1 Although I also require an out-of-class reader response journal. Such prompts include the following: “Which topic do you think you will write about in your concept essay? Explain your reasons for choosing this topic. empathetic. I like to make my comments positive--encouraging. Alternatively. In addition to increasing students’ written proficiency. congratulatory. I may write a response that summarizes what the student has written. I estimate that many students compose my assigned essays in as few as twelve days total for the semester. I assume one day of writing in class and one day of writing out of class apiece for four essays. forty days represents a maximum possible amount of time. three days of writing in class for a midterm essay. .

These circumstances might be problems with the class itself. and the journal helps provide the support they need. The five-minute journal makes a meaningful contribution to my composition pedagogy and strengthens my relationship with my students. they feel unreasonably punished. loss of the use of a car. or frustration at receiving low grades. because I use this assignment at the beginning of class. but with the journal. such as conflicts with classmates. I may know when to approach a student individually to offer assistance that can help him or her continue to succeed in my class and perhaps at school in general. I encourage students to be responsible and involved in my courses. Students may not consider approaching an instructor for help with schoolwork when they confront these kinds of difficulties. The journals also let me know when students need extra attention from me. In addition to needing extra incentive to attend class. Furthermore.Louden 3 ideas that you intend to use in your evaluation essay. but they are sensitive to the grades they receive. I am able to guide students to make feasible and personally meaningful prewriting choices that will lead to greater success. In other words. a student may experience a personal crisis such as a family emergency. Although I . some students require a surprising number of reminders as well as considerable motivation to do their homework. students are present for the discussion of upcoming assignments that I provide immediately afterward. On the other hand.” With these prompts and my comments on their responses. they find the consequences of 0’s and 50’s in my grade book reasonable if undesirable and make the necessary effort to maintain their grades. ESOL students are ambivalent about the program’s attendance policies. Receiving a grade for each day of class. if they receive a lower grade “merely” because they are frequently absent or late. Additionally. By arriving on time for the journal. difficulties understanding the course material. I look for the best ideas in the journal responses and encourage students to develop them further in their essays. or unexpected job demands. It is often through the journals that I find out about circumstances that can interfere with a student’s success in the course. students are motivated to come to class and to arrive on time.

such as conducting research. Functioning as a quiz is one way that the five-minute journal serves as an assessment tool. I might ask students to narrate an anecdote of an experience similar to one depicted in a reading assignment. Students have remarked that the journal is like a quiz and may write apologetically when revealing that they were previously familiar with the ideas or techniques presented in the homework. It is also helpful that I require students to turn in their homework at the beginning of class when they turn in their journals. When homework offers practice in a skill. While some instructors may view this kind of response as a species of lie. Many confess in their journals when they have not done the homework and promise to be more conscientious next time. I ask what was easy and what was difficult about doing the assignment. Other students who have not done the homework attempt to respond to the journal prompt by elaborating their best guess. Students also become more conscientious about completing their out-of-class work because through the journal I prompt them to discuss the homework due that day. many students do not remember to check this handout unless they see me refer to it when I explain the assignment for the following day of class. I most appreciate the journal in these assessment capacities because I can immediately improve my teaching based on what my students tell me. For example.Louden 4 distribute a handout listing the homework for the semester. I have observed students quickly leafing through the papers to reassure themselves that they did the right assignment and completed it correctly. More frequently than I would like. the journal reminds students that they neglected to do homework. . such students would tend to think that they are doing better in the class than they actually are. Without this reminder. Seeing classmates’ homework in the stack of papers on my table. a student will remember to turn in an assignment that would otherwise have remained forgotten in a backpack. I see it as a strategy that may reconnect a student who falls out of step with the class. I also use this highly flexible assignment to encourage students to reflect on what they have learned and to evaluate my courses.

I often have students introduce themselves to me in the first journal of the semester. I feel this topic alerts students to the fact that I want them to develop the ability to judge their own work. “In your opinion.” “Describe the things you did to make your arguing essay as good as possible. On the day they turn in their first essay of the semester.Louden 5 The only other way I can get this information is through the end-of-semester student evaluations. This prompt often confuses students to the point that many have difficulty understanding what I am asking them to write. I might ask them what they anticipate their peer review partner to say about their essay draft. I use a journal topic that requires students to review the lesson. As an assessment tool.” and “Discuss the most important things a writer needs to know about writing a works cited page. On the day of a peer review. which essay was more difficult to write.” “Describe the advice you would give a new student in this class about how to avoid plagiarism. but I also ask them to describe positive experiences they have had in past .” I do not have to wait until an essay is due to have my students evaluate their coursework.” “Describe the things that you learned in the process of writing your annotated bibliography. which I do not receive until the middle of the following semester. for example “Explain why you think students find background paragraphs confusing. which I can address before beginning the next theme. After the class has finished practicing a difficult skill. I always ask them to write about the good and bad features of the essay that they are turning in. Nevertheless. They also allow me to identify any misunderstandings that the class might have. the process essay or the classification essay? Explain your reasons for your opinion. Some invariably write that they expect me to tell them their strengths and weaknesses.” Topics like these add closure to a lesson.” and “What grade do you think your research paper will receive? Give your reasons for this prediction. Examples of similar prompts that I use on the day that an important writing assignment is due include. I can use the journal at any point in the semester to prompt students to evaluate themselves. the five-minute journal also allows me to begin and end a semester meaningfully.

when I discuss it with other instructors. I have no doubt that the five-year journal is an essential part of my methodology. and has been turned in on time. I have students evaluate both themselves and the class in their journal responses. A journal response receives a grade of 100 if it is at least fifty words long. Most recently. so I have to grade the journals as efficiently as possible.Louden 6 English classes. This disagreement in part represents a difference in teaching philosophy. or off topic receive a grade of fifty. and what they wish the course had taught them. I ask them what they wish they had known about the class at the beginning of the semester. I feel that the time I spend on the journals is worthwhile. To elicit their opinions of the course. I feel that the daily work that I assign keeps me . students additionally tell me about their previous courses within our university ESOL program. Considering the benefits that my students and I enjoy. Journals that are late. These instructors have a good point. Over the years. One of the virtues of the five-minute journal is also a liability. too short. Although his topic often evokes memories of elementary school and learning the names of colors. I prompt them to discuss what they have learned and to evaluate their performance as students throughout the semester. it can be inserted into a day of class without displacing other in-class work that might also have to be graded. I have added speech and vocabulary components and multiple and varied opportunities for extra credit. I take about half an hour to read the journals for one class meeting. they doubt that they can spare the time to grade the students’ responses. I have a homework assignment and an in-class assignment in addition to the journal due almost every day of class. For a class at the maximum capacity of twenty-nine. I have made numerous improvements based on student suggestions. Because this assignment takes only five minutes. is on topic. however. the advice they would give to students just starting the course. I have a large number of formulaic responses to what my students have written. I learn which teachers are well regarded among the students. After many semesters of practice. though other teachers do not agree. and I have picked up some useful teaching techniques as well. As a semester concludes.

and. I have composed the day’s journal topic while dashing to class. I would be hard pressed to find a suite of techniques to compensate for the benefits that I and my students would lose. In classes considerably larger than mine. This reciprocity empowers us both. I hope. . For me.Louden 7 apprised of my students’ progress and keep my students in touch with my courses. a daily five-minute journal represents an impractical amount of paperwork. though. the five-minute journal is a versatile teaching tool that provides many valuable rewards. It is an excellent replacement for a pop quiz because it is faster to grade and requires little preparation. If my the size of my classes and course load were increased to the point that a daily five-minute journal was no longer feasible. however. I help my students become better writers and better students while they help me become a better instructor. increases my students’ satisfaction with my courses as much as it increases my own. but this exercise still may be worth using less frequently. Requiring minimal resources and a small amount of time. the journal has its varied rewards because I use it at every class meeting. Other instructors accomplish the same goals differently.

Rise B.Louden 8 Works Cited Axelrod. Martin’s Guide to Writing. 2000. Cooper. Diana. 5th ed. White Plains. . A Writer’s Reference. 3rd ed. Martin’s. 2003.. Short 7th ed. NY: Longman. New York: Bedford-St. 2004. The St. New York: Bedford-St. The Process of Composition. Hacker. Joy M. Reid. and Charles R. Martin’s.