Literacy and Numeracy

20 Creative Ideas for Awesome Student Learning Journals

Your learners can easily fall in love with journaling with these 20 creative ideas for getting started.

Journaling frees students from the constraints of structure and expectation and lets them write freely. Additionally, it's a great self-expression and reflection exercise, as well as a terrific brain booster. 

In the past, we've shared some great creative writing sources your learners will love, and can truly benefit from in terms of honing and improving their writing skills. In this post, Terry Heick from TeachThought provides an awesome list of student journaling ideas in his article 20 Types Of Learning Journals That Help Students Think.

Journaling is a deeply personal practice and there are many ways to do it. The notion of writing at all, even journaling, can be off-putting to some students. So it makes sense that the more student journaling ideas they have to choose from the better. After all, journaling is a deeply personal practice and there are many ways to do it.

Terry explains in his article how versatile a pastime journaling is, and how it contributes to cognitive health:

"A learning journal is simply an ongoing collection of writing for learning—that is, writing done for the purpose of learning rather than the purpose of demonstrating learning ... there are as many types of learning journals as there are ways to think, mainly because writing is a powerful strategy for both documenting and promoting thinking."

Happily, you'll find this list of student journaling ideas is also quite interchangeable. As Terry writes, there's no reason students can't combine different ideas into one journal. That adds up to way more than just 20 different ways to journal, so encourage learners to experiment what journaling approaches resonate with them. It's as much about creativity as it is about reflection, after all.

Here are Terry's 20 different student journaling ideas to spice up classroom journaling adventures. For a more detailed explanation of each journal, visit Terry's article on TeachThought.

  1. Question Journal: This inquiry idea is about students asking and improving their own questions.
  2. Metacogntive Journal: A journal focused on thinking about thinking—tendencies, changes, cognitive blind spots and so on.
  3. Change Journal: A change journal frames the writing for learning in terms of exactly what it implies—change. Examples are how knowledge changes after a lesson, or students' own behaviour as the result of their learning.
  4. Connecting Journal: A learning journal that frames writing through the connections learners make between different things.
  5. Transfer Journal: A journal that focuses on transferring learning to new and unfamiliar circumstances.
  6. "I Wonder" Journal: This journal features less detailed and more imaginative entries based on student wondering and musings.
  7. "I Notice/I Think" Journal: Similar to the above, but is more based on opinion and analysis.
  8. Visualization Journal: A type of learning journal that promotes acute and specific visualization of learning and knowledge.
  9. Doodle Journal: Students doodle and sketch about their learning experiences with no requirement other than being able to explain why they drew what they drew.
  10. Concept/Example Journal: A type of learning journal that promotes thinking through concepts (abstract) or thinking through examples (concrete).
  11. 5 Ws Journal: A journal framed through the iconic 5 Ws: Who/What/Where/Why/When.
  12. Private Journal: A type of learning journal private only to the student, and only requiring that the student be writing something about learning.
  13. Digital Journal: Applies to any of the student journaling ideas above but is stored digitally.

These 7 student journaling ideas are from the University of Missouri and are research-based ideas to try out in your classroom.

  1. Personal Journal: Students will write freely about their experience. This is usually weekly. These personal journals may be submitted periodically to the instructor, or kept as a reference to use at the end of the experience when putting together an academic essay reflecting their experience. (Hatcher 1996)
  2. Dialogue Journal: Students submit loose-leaf pages from a dialogue journal bi-weekly (or otherwise at appropriate intervals) for the instructor to read and comment on. While labour-intensive for the instructor, this can provide continual feedback to students and prompt new questions for students to consider during the semester. (Goldsmith, 1995)
  3. Highlighted Journal: Before students submit the reflective journal, they reread personal entries and, using a highlighter, mark sections of the journal that directly relate to concepts discussed in the text or in class. This makes it easier for the instructor to identify the student to reflect on their experience in light of course content. (Gary Hesser, Augsberg College )
  4. Key Phrase Journal: In this type of journal, students are asked to integrate terms and key phrases within their journal entries. The instructor can provide a list of terms at the beginning of the semester or for a certain portion of the text. Students could also create their own list of key phrases to include. Journal entries are written within the framework of the course content and become an observation of how course content is evident in the service experience. (Hatcher 1996)
  5. Double-entry Journal: When using a double-entry journal, students are asked to write one-page entries each week: Students describe their personal thoughts and reactions to the service experience on the left page of the journal, and write about key issues from class discussions or readings on the right page of the journal. Students then draw arrows indicating relationships between their personal experiences and course content. This type of journal is a compilation of personal data and a summary of course content in preparation of a more formal reflection paper at the end of the semester. (Angelo and Cross 1993)
  6. Critical Incident Journal: This type of journal entry focuses the student on analysis of a particular event that occurred during the week. By answering one of the following sets of prompts, students are asked to consider their thoughts and reactions and articulate the action they plan to take in the future: Describe a significant event that occurred as a part of the service-learning experience. Why was this significant to you? What underlying issues (societal, interpersonal) surfaced as a result of this experience? How will this incident influence your future behavior? Another set of questions for a critical incident journal includes the following prompts: Describe an incident or situation that created a dilemma for you in terms of what to say or do. What is the first thing you thought of to say or do? List three other actions you might have taken. Which of the above seems best to you now and why do you think this is the best response? (Hatcher 1996)
  7. Three-part Journal: Students are asked to divide each page of their journal into thirds, and write weekly entries during the semester. In the top section, students describe some aspect of the service experience. In the middle of the page, they are asked to analyze how course content relates to the service experience. And finally, an application section prompts students to comment on how the experience and course content can be applied to their personal or professional life. (Bringle 1996)’

Read the full article 20 Types Of Learning Journals That Help Students Think by Terry Heick on TeachThought.