The Value of Daily Classroom Journals

I start every lesson with my younger and beginner-to-intermediate students with a brief journaling activity, depending on student level:

  • Little ones who are still learning how to read and write circle a sight word related to feelings, and then draw a picture of themselves.
  • Slightly older ones who have mastered reading and writing but are still low level in English write about one thing they did and one thing they want to do, complete with picture.
  • Older students, or ones who are already at a more advanced level, have four brief prompts without pictures: what they did last week, one thing they wish they could change, what they hope will happen, and what will probably happen

They’re basically a formalized version of the little ceremonial warm-up chat that I have with my more advanced students. By making that small talk part of the lesson in a more official way, it makes the lesson more about them. It can be a great shortcut around any resentment younger students might have since they’re often (but not always) engaged in lessons at the behest of their parents. Journals don’t really feel like work, and it lets students write or talk about themselves, which is everyone’s favorite topic!

A silver pen in a blank, open journal.

The luxury of private instruction is that I’m not crunched for time or beholden to a particular schedule, so I can spend as long on journals as works. I think this is especially important within the context of private lessons, since they’re taking precious free time away. I’m not a proponent of the idea that teachers need to be clowns or entertainers; rather that the value of language in terms of self expression needs to be emphasized in certain contexts. Rather than declaring X amount of minutes for journals, the same amount every time, I let it go as long as it needs. Sometimes a student had a really exciting week at school and they have a lot to talk about; sometimes there’s not much to say at all.

While they’re writing (or talking), I make a deliberate effort to ask as many questions as I can think of to elicit more details. I also make a note to ask follow-up questions in the next lesson, such as inquiring about how a test, project, or sports game went. I seem to have a natural memory for these things, but if you don’t, you can keep a little daybook of students and their activities, where you can make notes about their plans right after lessons and what you can refer to right before a lesson for a refresher.  This is important not only for generating more material to “exploit” (to use a piece of jargon), but for more altruistic reasons. Over the long term, it’s much easier to connect to a teacher who demonstrably cares about you than one who’s only interested in what you accomplish during your hour or two of instruction every week. Likewise, when you get to know students, you become even more invested in their success, in language and in everything else.

This can also apply to self-study. It might not always be possible to find someone to talk to (native speaker or otherwise), but whether or not you can carve out the time for a little journaling is fairly easy to control. And now with the Internet, it’s trivial to find someone who can correct your work and provide feedback, whether it’s for free (on something like Lang-8) or for minimal cost (on something like Ediket). The first step in being able to talk about anything else is always being able to talk about yourself. So get journaling!

Thoughts on Ediket: First-Come, First-Served Real Time English Editing Services

Full disclosure: I am one of Ediket’s freelance on-call editors. I was not asked or encouraged to write this review, and I do not benefit in any way from writing it. I just believe Ediket is a potential tool, among many, for independent English language learners.

When it comes to improving written English, my favorite tool is still Lang-8. For a free platform, it’s incredibly dynamic and useful.

It just has one drawback: any native speaker can correct your writing, and not all native speakers are created equal. Because it’s very likely that any given submission will be corrected by more than one reader, things get tricky:

This means that you will sometimes get differing or even conflicting corrections. Sometimes users will comment on their corrections and explain their reasoning, but more often than not they don’t. If you don’t have a guide on hand, it can be impossible to understand which of these corrections is the best one, or is actually counter what you were trying to communicate in the first place.

What about those who can’t afford to take a class or hire a tutor, or who otherwise don’t have access to personalized instruction? One option, at least as far as writing is concerned, is Ediket.

Ediket logo

Ediket takes some of the guesswork out of online language correction. The editors (like myself) are, to some degree, vetted. We all have backgrounds in English language and were required to pass a brief editing test to join the site. Thus, Ediket can guarantee a certain level of professionalism and knowledge absent from Lang-8.

The other difference between Ediket and Lang-8 is how the entire site is structured. On Lang-8, any given English “diary entry” is visible to any given English native speaker. There are privacy levels, so that only your friend have access to it, but overall the site is designed to broadcast work to as large an audience as possible. Conversely, any piece you upload to Ediket will only be checked by one person. What you lose in exposure, you gain in consistency and, with any luck, clarity.

No piece on Ediket is checked without commentary from the editor, either. If an editor notices a consistent error on your part (maybe a problem with verb tense, or incorrect usage), they can provide instruction and guidance. It’s not a guarantee that all of them will, of course; rather that they are simply better equipped to be helpful than the typical Lang-8 user. Some editors will go into great detail in their comments, while others are more  brief. I tend to be brief, unless I notice a recurring error or habit.

If you get especially helpful comments from a particular editor, or just like their style, you can choose to work exclusively with them by making a 1-to-1 request that will be funneled directly to the editor in question for them to either accept or reject, rather than the larger job pool. At this point, there isn’t a mechanism for making a particular editor your “default.” If you like someone enough to prefer them exclusively, you have to make a 1-to-1 request with every document you upload. Fortunately, each editor has their own profile page, so we’re easy to find!

The downside is that Ediket is not a free service; you have to pay for a given editor’s time and expertise. The rates are inexpensive enough that I think Ediket can be readily accessible for most students. Additionally, customers are able to earn free credits by referring friends to the service.

Of course, these low rates mean that from an editing standpoint, anything more than a light proofreading or two (with any additional comments, tips, and suggestions) is economically unfeasible. Ediket is in no way a replacement for hiring an attentive and thorough professional editor. As an English study tool, however, Ediket has a place for the independent learner.