Journal writing is a learning tool based on the ideas that students write to learn. Students use the journals to write about topics of personal interest, to note their observations, to imagine, to wonder and to connect new information with things they already know.
What is its purpose?
Using journals fosters learning in many ways. Students who use journals are actively engaged in their own learning and have the opportunity to clarify and reflect upon their thinking. When students write in journals, they can record such things as ideas and feelings, special words and expressions they have heard, interesting things that have happened to them or information about interesting people. Journal writing offers students opportunities to write without fear often associated with marking. Every journal entry is individualized.
How do I do it?
Journals can be used throughout the day, at different times of the day and for different purposes.
- Decide what type of journal you want to use in your classroom. Think about the purpose of the journal and how will you use it.
- Prepare materials. Your students’ journals may be looseleaf notebooks or folders. Individual pages should be contained in some way so that they are not lost over time.
- Model initial entries. Using an overhead projector or classroom chart, work together to write a sample response. Students can copy the class response in their own journal or write one of their own.
- Schedule time for regular journal use. Students are all engaged in the act of writing and this enables individuals to generate ideas, observations and emotions.
While you should not grade or correct the writing in journals – only finished pieces should be used for grading – you could comment on your students’ writing. Offer suggestions, constructive remarks, questions, and encouragement whenever possible. Sometimes students will respond to the teacher’s comments.
One of the biggest problems with writing journals is that some students use them simply as a way to record the day’s events. They slip into the routine of writing diary entries without reflection or real purpose. You can reduce this by encouraging your students to write about a variety of topics and take what they feel are the better entries and develop them into finished pieces.
Journals offer students the opportunity to reflect on their world and expand their awareness of what is happening in their lives. For many students journals become a rich source of ideas for writing.
How can I adapt it?
There are several variations of journals that can be adapted to fit the needs of the classroom.
- Personal Journals
These journals allow students the freedom to write about their feelings, opinions, expressions and about topics of personal interest. If they wish, students may share these entries with others.
- Dialogue Journals
Dialogue journals are conversations in writing. Most often the conversation is between the student and the teacher or classmates. These journals are interactive – the two conversation partners comment on one another’s entries. These conversations encourage students to express themselves in thoughtful and informal ways.
- Reading Response Journals
These journals are used to capture students’ reactions to books and to track their reading. The entries might include questions, comparisons, evaluations, letters to characters, predictions and comments on style or mood.
- Math Journals
The goal of writing in mathematics is to provide students with opportunities to explain their thinking about mathematical ideas and then to re-examine their thoughts by reviewing their writing. Writing will enhance students’ understanding of math as they learn to articulate their thought processes in solving math problems and learning math concepts.
- Science Journals
Writing science journals could be a great way for the teacher to have a better understanding on how the students are thinking about the science lesson. Science journals are a way to incorporate personal ideas with observation and interference. Students can express their opinions with every experiment. Encourage students to write questions about process or outcomes of explorations. They can use drawings, diagrams, data charts and graphs.
- Art Journals
The art journal gives students a place to plan, to gather resource and research materials, to do preliminary drawings and to experiment with media; in short, to explore and document their personal creative processes. On a very basic level, it helps students keep all required and exploratory material together.
Assessment & Evaluation Considerations
The journal can be used as a reference file to help the teacher monitor individual development and progress. Entries should not be evaluated as finished products. The evaluation of journals should emphasize the content. While each journal is unique, good journals share the following characteristics:
- personal observations
- speculations and predictions
- evidence of developing self-awareness
- connections between personal experience and new information
A journal is like a good friend who is never too busy to listen.
- How to Use Journals and Logs Across the Curriculum, Evan-Moor, 1977
- Write Again, Globe/Modern Curriculum Press, 1984
- Journal Writing Every Day: Teachers Say It Really Works!
- Journal Writing in Mathematics
- The Science Journal: Writing and Inquiry Development
- Journal Writing Rubric