Here is how I do journals in my intermediate grades.
The MOST important thing is for my students to know that their writing will only be seen by myself. I will not be sharing it with the class to show excellent writing, nor will it be shown to their parents. I also tell them that I am not marking it for spelling (if they make a mistake I try to write a sentence back with the proper spelling of the word) or proper sentences. It WILL NOT be used for report cards either. Why would I do it then, you ask? It has been the best way to find out more about my students and find out who they really are as a person and not as a student.
These are the notebooks I use for our journals (mostly because they are cheap!) but you can use whatever you like. I recommend that you do use a notebook of some sort and not just loose leaf paper. This gives you, and the student a chance to see how their writing has changed and they can keep it as a keepsake if they like.
The format we use is letter writing. They write a letter to me and I write back. I tell them they can ask me ANYTHING. I may or may not answer their question and I will tell them if I don't feel comfortable answering a question. The same thing goes for them. If I ask them a question they can decline to answer it (as long as they tell me they don't want to answer, so I don't think they are ignoring me.)
BELIEVE ME when I say that journal time is the QUIETEST time in my class. EVERY student is working to write in their journal no matter what their writing abilities are. Sure some need adaptations (a scribe - myself or an education assistant writes on a small whiteboard and they copy into their journal, or they get to write few sentences, or get more time to write) but ALL students write. I also let them know that they can write to me using anything they want -- pens, markers, pencil crayons, etc. Just not anything in yellow. It is too hard to read...lol
They are super excited to read what I have written and they ALL try and read what I have written. Those student who can read cursive get the challenge of reading my cursive response.
I have learned so much about my students, from what they did on the weekend, to why they are sad, to what their favorite things are.
This is the one activity that I will NEVER give up doing with my students.
Here are some samples of my students' journal entries.
This one shows how much information I received about the things in my students life all in one journal entry.
We all have that student who thinks outside the box whenever they do anything. This particular student decided right away that he wanted to give me "Would You Rather" questions. He is pretty creative in the choices he gives me. He always gives me 2-3 different questions like this and I give him 2-3 back.
He also is an incredible artist and I wanted to incorporate that into one of his responses so I asked him to draw me a picture of his cichlid.
This next one makes my heart happy because this grade 5 girl was new to our school and she could barely write one sentence. We started with her barely asking me how old I was, to getting a scribe, to writing this all by herself (with the help of our class word box) :)
When I respond to my students is allows me the opportunities to acknowledge great things they have been doing at school, like being responsible citizens...
Or finding out their interests. These are things that I can bring into other lessons. I found out that this student is serious about hockey so when I am writing Math questions I can incorporate hockey into them.
I really find out how humorous my students are when I look at how they respond to my entries.
I am not going to lie... It takes a lot of time to respond to my students each week (we do journals once a week) but like I said it is well worth it. My students open up to me and they get a glimpse into my life outside of school as well.
If you use journals in intermediate grades, I would love it if you left a comment below telling me how you do it.