Spring is a great time of year to have students dive into interesting topics and share their knowledge and expertise. Ask students to identify topics they know a lot about and have them write down any questions they might have about the topic. You can use these questions (and their answers!) to create shared "expert journals" in your classroom. In one second grade class, we brainstormed the topics using an alphaboxes chart and created expert journals from there.
Expert journals can be a personal or community journal in which students share their expertise and answer questions they either have themselves or that their peers have posed about that topic. Your students can make a simple expert journal by folding and tearing several sheets of paper and then stapling them together. For a more structured journal, like a community expert journal to keep in your room, you can use composition notebooks.
In my experience, students love creating these expert journals. It allows them to practice explaining information through expository text writing, and they enjoy it because they get to choose a topic that they already know a lot about, or that they want to know a lot about.
They get to write for a stated purpose and with an understanding of their intended audience.
To begin an expert journal writing activity, have students choose a topic, and then jot down what they think they already know about it, and what they need to learn or verify. Remind them that they need facts, examples, explanations, and details to engage their audience. They must also anticipate audience questions and interests.
When creating expert journals, students are faced with lots of choices and are able to make decisions about what they want to share with their audience. Choice is a motivational tool that drives learning towards autonomy.
1. Students select their own topics.
2. Students organize their information. This student above is creating a table of contents.
3. Model using alphaboxes to list out ideas to research.