As the year ended, some of my students were helping me clean out my room when one of the girls held up a spiral notebook to see if I wanted to keep the stack it came from. It was an opinion journal from several years earlier. I watched the girls as they started to look through them, and then as they opened them and began to read. I had forgotten all about them! I wish I had used them this year. They were fun.
This is a simple project and cost me about $5.00 to implement. I went to Walmart long after the back-to-school sales were over and the prices had been marked back up. I wanted single-subject spiral notebooks, but I wasn’t going to spend $.49 each for them. I explained to the manager what I was up to, and he sold them to me for $.17 a piece. For a total of $5.10, I bought thirty notebooks. Not bad! They should be about ten cents right about now as the Back-to-School – gasp – sales are starting. Maybe a nickel.
On the front of each notebook I wrote with Magic Marker a topic – bullying, dating, grades, cliques, homework, driver’s licenses. Anything of interest to eighth graders. These were now their Opinion Journals. On these blank pages they could write anything they wanted to about the topic on the front cover. The only catch was that they were not able to choose which topic they got.
When my students entered class, an Opinion Journal would be waiting on their desks. It was totally random. What they got was what they got – no switching allowed. Oh, and they wanted to switch! But the interesting aspect of this assignment was seeing how each student approached a topic they had not ever thought to write about. So a non-athlete would approach the Sports journal with a dissertation on the over-hyped irrelevance of high school sports. Boys would share their views on the time girls spent on makeup. I liked to think they were expanding their thinking by exploring new territories.
There were several journals that were bigger hits than others.
Gossip was always a hot topic. They didn’t spread gossip; they talked about the damage done by those who did. They talked about online gossip, back-stabbing gossip, and their former best friends’s gossip and how it ruined their friendship.
Sports was fought over mainly because non-writer boys find it is a safe, comfortable topic. This was my husband in school. I doubt his teachers ever got to read anything written by him that wasn’t about sports.
Dress code always stirred up strong opinions. Thoughts ranged from why we didn’t even need one to the short, short skirts that our cheerleaders wore on game days.
The most hysterical one was S-E-X. That’s exactly how I wrote it on the cover, too. The reaction of fourteen-year- olds to seeing that word on the cover of an Opinion Journal being handed to them by me was priceless. Who was the lucky one to get it? Holding it up proudly for everyone to see. Um, can we say this outloud? Laughter. Always laughter.
??? was a free-write on any topic. Students could sound off on anything on their minds that day. Bad morning with Mom? It was in there. Had it with the science teacher and her pop quizzes? Yep. How short the art teacher’s skirt was? It was all in there. (Not really the art teacher – I’m protecting the not-so-innocent party here.)
So What We Did
These journals were used during our instruction on Facts vs. Opinions. I had taught the difference.
Opinions – Something you think, feel, or believe.
Facts – You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be true. We chanted the Facts definition to finger snapping. We read it, said it, heard it, and felt it – there are the learning styles all in one lesson. Snap your fingers on check, test, prove, and true. Feel the rhythm?
The mind-blower here is that if you can check it, test it, and prove it to be true, what if you check it, test it, and prove it to be false? Isn’t it still a fact statement? Well, yes it is. So we talked about that. If I say This is Mrs. Hamilton’s room, that’s a fact statement. What if it’s not Mrs. Hamilton’s room? Does that change it to an opinion? No, it is still a fact statement – it just isn’t true.
You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be true.
You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be false.
So we play with these. I throw sentences at them; they throw them at each other. We identify them. It’s cold in here. Opinion. But you can look on the thermostat! Yes, but what if I live in Alaska? Is 65 degrees cold in Alaska? Of course not. It all relative. Besides, if three students think my room is cold, seven more are hot. No, hot and cold are definitely opinions. They really learn this. And it matters when they write argumentative essays. Opinions must be supported by facts.
Back to the Journals
So after we write, we sign and date our opinion entries. This is because someone else will be reading what we have written and adding their own opinions. Next period, someone else will pick up the journal and add their thoughts. Sometimes they agree, and sometimes they don’t. They can answer a previous entry or head off in a completely new direction.
One of these little spirals will hold many opinions – they last for years! Tell them before they start writing to skip a line or two on the same page. Starting a new page wastes pages and fails to encourage the reading of other entries. Students find opinion entries from older friends or brothers and sisters I have taught before them. They love that.
These Opinion Journals are a great change of pace. Sometimes they make a quick-write option as a starter or sponge activity at the beginning of class. Sometimes I passed them out as a transition from Reading Workshop to Writing Workshop. Sometimes students who have hit a wall in their writing can unblock themselves by spending a few minutes in a journal. And those days when your lesson has been destroyed by a fire drill or an unscheduled assembly can be salvaged by a few minutes of quiet writing.
One thing I know for certain is that eighth graders never run out of opinions!