Excerpted from Writing Workshop Survival Kit.

Observational Journal Writing

The world is an interesting place, and it is full of ideas for writing. Encourage your students to become keen observers of their world. They should learn to see things not in isolation, but in relation to other things. How do things affect each other? How are they connected? Encourage your students to use all their senses – seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting – to gain full appreciation of their world.

Explain to your students how observation can be important to prewriting. Offer them this example. Most people see a tree only as a trunk, branches, and leaves. It's much more. Its roots hold the soil and draw water from the ground. It provides a home for birds, squirrels, and other animals. Its leaves are food and shelter for insects. Trees help provide the world's atmospheric oxygen. Every tree is a part of an ecosystem, and each of these relationships can be a possible topic for writing.

As a follow-up to your explanation, you may wish to assign this activity. Ask your students to choose a place – a park, the backyard, or their rooms are some examples. They are to stay at the place they select for 15 minutes to a half-hour and observe the spot. What is there? What are the relationships? How is each of their senses affected? To help your students with their observations, you can hand out copies of What Do You See? Encourage your students to write about their observations in their journals.

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