It's likely your students have had some experience with journal writing if they've been in school a few years. Journal (or diary) writing is a lot of fun, and can be adapted to a variety of writing experiences.
Here is one fun, short diary writing exercise that can be used for its own sake or as a "warm-up" for other diary writing activities. Ask students to write a few diary entries for a Mother Goose character, detailing the events described in the rhyme. Here are some samples by 5th and 6th grade writers--not corrected for conventions:
From the Diary of: Mary's Little Lamb
What is it with that Mary girl? Dragging me to school every day. As if I had a choice. What you don't hear in those nursery rhymes is that she starves me if I don't go to school with her; it's the only way I can stay alive! I'm thinking about being adopted by Little Bo Peep, sure I may get lost, but anything is better than being with Mary and those little brats at school (shudder, shudder).
the desperate Little Lamb
There was school today; it was miserable. The kids thought I was a wool blanket, so they dragged me over to a spot in the grass, and sat on me while they had a tea party. When they finally left, I got up and ...Ahhhhrrrrhhh!!! One whole side of my beautiful, soft, white coat was soaked in MUD!!! When I got home I tried to wash it, but not all of it came off...I think it's stained.
the desperate, please have sympathy on me,
Oh man! It's those darn kids again! Hey, there's Little Bo Peep, and one of her sheep? She must be in on it, too. So much for the adoption papers (rip, rip). Well here I am in the classroom. LORD, please help me get through this day.
the really, really, really desperate, please have sympathy on me, Little Lamb
From the Diary of Sir Alfred Van Beggan
Oct. 8, 1809
The King got a call today. It seems someone was playing on a high wall and had a great misfortune. All the King's knights are to ride out on horseback tomorrow at dawn to see what we can do. This must be a very serious matter, if they called the King.
Oct. 9, 1809
We arrived in Eggsville at about 9:00 in the morning, and stayed in a castle and slept until 11:00, then rode over to the high wall, the scene of the accident. The casualty's name is (was), Sir Humpty Dumpty. He is an egg. An egg! What kind of a sick joke is that! We, the King's men, were sent out on our horses to try to put back together an egg, who, obviously, wasn't supposed to be playing on a wall in the first place! Well, we couldn't put him together anyway. Neither could the horses.
--Sir Alfred Van Beggan
Little Miss Muffet: From the Diary of the Spider
I was just floating in the breeze when this little girl screams and throws her curds and whey at me. The idiot hit me with them and gave me third degree burns! So I creeped as fast as I could to get away from the over-cooked curd so I could fight another day.
P.S. Ha ha ha.
I contacted my attorney to see if I had a case. They said we could file a lawsuit for assault.
P.S. This girl will remember not to mess with spiders.
Our first day in court and the jury is already working on the verdict. Since all of the jury were relatives, I'd say we had it won.
P.S. Will that be cash or check, Ms. Muffet?
The evil defendant got sentenced to sixty years in a maximum security prison. Back at home we threw a party.
P.S. Revenge at last.
Here are two great diary writing activities with ties to social studies and science curriculum that teachers in my school have used in the past:
1. Biography activity: After researching important events in a famous person's life, pretend to be your famous person and write diary entries for 3-4 of those events. Be sure to show evidence of details from your research in your writing. To see a student sample, click here.
2. Day in the life of activity
From the Writing Curriculum Files
of Children's Author, Suzanne Williams