Adventures with Elmo! – Collaborative journal writing with a twist!

By Neil Millington

A few years ago, I was looking for ideas to liven up my writing class and try to find some ideas to make the group of learners I was teaching more cohesive. I was at a conference and I watched a great presentation on collaborative journal writing.

Collaborative journal writing

The basic idea was that the class would have a group journal and would take turns writing an entry. After the first class, one of the learners would take the journal home and write about something they had done that day. They would then add photos, pictures, and drawings on the next page. They would bring the journal to the next class and give it to another learner. This learner then read the previous entry and added one of their own. Throughout the course, this would continue with each member of the class taking it in turn to write in the journal.

A slight twist

I thought that this collaborative journal writing was a fantastic idea but I had a few reservations. My learners were quite a reserved bunch and the class didn’t know each other so well. The idea of writing was fine, but I was unsure whether they would be comfortable sharing photos of themselves out and about in their daily life. I therefore decided to try this project, but do it with a slight twist. Characters and mascots are popular with the age group I teach and I therefore decided to start this project but focus on the adventures of a popular character. I went shopping and came across a selection of Sesame Street characters in a store. Knowing that Elmo is very popular, I bought an Elmo toy and an Elmo notebook.

The new idea

The basic idea was that I would introduce Elmo as a new member of the class. He would be in every class and at the end of each class he would leave with a learner. The learners then would write about what he got up to with them that day. I also set up a closed Facebook group so they could share photos of Elmo’s adventures. Now, I teach university students, so I thought that they might think this a little immature. However, over the course of the semester the students really started to buy into this idea. By the end of the 15 week course there were hundreds of photos in the group detailing Elmo’s adventures. There were photos of him playing basketball, eating dinner, riding a bike, attending concerts, and even out partying! There were literally thousands of likes and comments on these pictures too. Also, the notebook was full of creative and hilarious adventures that Elmo had been involved in.

What do you think?

I have no data to suggest that this improved class performance or writing skills. I don’t even know if it helped class cohesion, but for sure, it was fun for all involved. I’m convinced that the students were much less inhibited detailing the events of Elmo than they would have been about themselves. It also certainly sparked their imagination too.

Would this work with your learners? I would love to hear what you think. If you are looking for other ideas to get your class motivated, please check out this post.