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Journal Organization Ideas for Teachers


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Lesson Plan Topics:

Making Journal Topics Relevant to Student Lives

Time Management and Journaling

Responding to Student Journals

Grading Student Journals


Two Bonus Lesson Ideas:

Topic Sentences

Tact & Diplomacy in Writing


In my classroom, allowing students to generate their own journal topics galvanized student writing. The topics are almost always timely and relevant to every students life, and are infinitely more interesting to the students than every other topic generating method I've tried!



1.) Make a class roster of student names; as new students enter add them to the bottom of the list, as students leave cross them off.

2.) Separate the class evenly into 5 groups named: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. On their given day of the week, every member of that group turns in his/her journal. (I also use these groups for nonacademic classroom management purposes: pretest, pencil sharpening, drinks, etc.) The groups remain balanced throughout the year, incoming students replacing outgoing students).

3.) Give each student a journal. (I provide my students with manila covered composition books.) On the cover of the journal have each student write his/her name and group name in a specific area. HINT: Many student have never previously written in a blank book and may need orientation.

Every year -- even at 5th grade -- I have one or two students who start at the back and write forward.



My primary objectives are to help my students develop and present their ideas and opinions. It is my belief that students best learn to grow intellectually when responded to rather than corrected.

To achieve the above objectives I must help my students develop proper writing skills. I do this with Language Arts lessons not associated to journal topics, but once a lesson has been learned I expect it to be practiced in the journal. The first Language Arts lesson, on the first day of journaling, is a topic sentence refresher. I remind the students that without topic sentences, I may not be able to comprehend what it is they are writing about in their journals.

I put this example on the board: "I really like it. It is a lot of fun. My sister and I did it everyday this summer. We took lessons. Mom makes us take some kind of lessons every summer."

Then I discuss with the students what the topic may be. Most students say "swimming," some name a sport, a few name a musical instrument. After the students have guessed several different topics, I tell them the topic question was: "Do you like to cook?" The class then brainstorms appropriate topic sentences for this and several other subjects.

I occasionally hold a one-on-one oral conference with a student if I see repetitive journal errors. These are not put in writing, I want as little negative experiences or emotions attached to their journaling as possible. Error topics could include misspelling known words, lack of punctuation, capitalization or failure to indent paragraphs. Etc.


Procedures & Class Instruction:

My students began every class day journaling. I read the journals weekly. I never write in a student's journal. I write on sticky notes and attach them to the appropriate page. I do not correct spelling or critique ideas. I respond. This is a forum for personal communication. I usually only respond to one or two entries per journal, per week. More than that is time prohibitive.

Day One journal topic: 5th grade anticipations -- What are your fears and hopes? What kind of experience do you expect the 5th grade to be?

Proceeding journal assignments: Mondays (or first school day of the week), FREE WRITE -- student may write on the topic of his or her choice. Tuesday - Friday, student generated topics. Rotate through the class roster, assigning each student a day. On Monday I write the names of that week's topic providers on the board. I also remind them orally. This provides them with plenty of time to fashion a question. As the student enters the classroom on his/her topic day, he/she shares the subject with me and I communicate it to the class. Only once have I had a student absent on his topic day. On that day I had the classroom generate several ideas, and allowed students to pick one they liked. That student was assigned to provide a topic on the following Tuesday. No student is allowed to completely miss his/her turn.


These journals are private. I do not share a student's journal with anyone else without that student's permission. (In cases where I believe journal entries need to be viewed by another professional [councilor, etc.], I tell the student, "You have written something in your journal I must show to _____.")

Students are not allowed to read one another's journals. If a student has written something in his/her journal she wished to share, he/she may do so orally.

Because it is my goal to facilitate thinking and communicating skills I do not penalize my students for expressing their opinions, even if I disagree with them. I tell them anything appropriate that they care to communicate is acceptable. We then talk about polite ways to express opinions, such as saying, "I believe you have made a mistake," as opposed to calling someone a liar. (Another plus to this method is that, as the year progresses, students actually begin speaking these phrases.)

We briefly revisit this lesson when anyone comes up with a "land mine" topic such as: "Do you think the teacher is always right?" (This topic actually came up in my class, the journal entries that hurt the most were the ones with accurate insights. It is very humbling.

When I think a topic might cause me some personal distress, I do not read the journals until the end of the day. That way I can work through any discomfort or anger before seeing the student again -- that makes it much easier to keep my word.)



Since their journaling grade is more for effort than quality, I do not believe it should carry tremendous weight. On the other hand, it is a daily activity and provides a more constant measure of progress than other assignments can, so I believe it does need to be recognized.

To facilitate grading, students are expected to date their daily journal entries. Students receive one point per day for their journal responses. I keep track of these points in weekly blocks, so their journal entry grade would be 5 or less. For every grading period, I reconcile their journal entries and their attendance, creating a fraction (journal entries on the top, days present on the bottom). I use that fraction to calculate their journaling grade. This journaling grade is then averaged into their other writing scores as though it were a single (albeit comprehensive) assignment.