Journaling 101

One helpful instructional tool being used in classrooms today is journaling. Teachers often wonder how to most effectively use journals in their classrooms, and this site will include several ideas to consider when having your students use journals as a learning tool.  

Step 1:  
Personalize it!

A perfect way to start is by letting your students personalize their journal covers and title pages.  This will create a sense of ownership, and it will remind them that their journals are full of meaningful information.  Scrapbook paper, stickers, and decorative tape are often used to decorate beautiful covers.  This makes an excellent homework assignment.  

These journal covers were personalized for a fifth grade language arts class. Each journal was decorated as a homework assignment.


Step 2:  
Table of contents

This step might be too time-consuming for the lower grades, but the Table of Contents is a valuable resource for third through fifth graders because it not only teaches them the importance of this nonfiction text feature and where it's located in a book, but kids are quickly able to find useful notes or reflections as long as they use this resource properly.  

This is an example of a fourth grade science journal and a fifth grade ELA journal. The page number, topic, and date are included.

Step 3:  
Formative Assessments

Find out what your students already know before teaching a new unit of study.  Journals are an excellent place to include K-W-L charts or circle maps to pre-assess students.  The link below offers several different suggestions for types of formative assessments that can be used in the classroom.  

STeP 4:
Notes/vocabulary

Students often take notes and practice vocabulary skills in their journals.  A wonderful link to information about Marzano's research-based vocabulary instructional techniques is included below to help with suggestions on how to effectively incorporate vocabulary lessons in journals.  

http://www.commlearnonline.com/files/Classroom-Tip...

Step 5:
Graphic Organizers

Studies show that kids learn information more clearly by using graphic organizers.  According to Thinking Maps, "Students use visual patterns to work collaboratively for deeper comprehension at all content areas and grade levels".  Journals are an excellent place for kids to use graphic organizers, such as Thinking Maps, to enhance their learning.  

STep 6:
Reflection of learning

This important step gives students the opportunity to analyze and explain their thinking in writing.  Often times this includes responding to a question at the end of a lesson or simply writing about what they learned about during that class period.  It is important to model for students what this should look like and possibly provide a rubric for them to follow.  Clear expectations are always helpful.

These examples were taken from two kindergarten students and three fifth grade students.

Step 7:
Rubrics

Set clear expectations for students by using rubrics when assigning students work.  You could use one rubric each time they write a response to learning.  New rubrics can easily be created by using Rubistar.  It's also very simple to create an account.  

The manila envelope is included in the back of the fifth grade science journals to hold rubrics.

Step 8:
Feedback

Be sure to provide feedback for your students in their journals.  This can be done by circling the criteria that they met on rubrics, offering "glows and grows" statements on their journal entries, or by using pre-printed mail labels with comments on them.  Parents also enjoy providing feedback, too.  Send the journals home periodically and let the parents make comments as well.  

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