5 Signs Your Journals are Falling Short

Picture of child writing in journal.

I have always used journals in my classrooms. They are such a great assessment tool to see how much students have progressed throughout the year and to observe what and how students are thinking.

Journals can be great if they are used correctly.

Here are 5 signs to indicate that journals aren’t being used to their full potential.

1. Journals are a source of groaning from your students.

A student frustrated with writing

How many times have you asked your students to write in their journals, and all you hear are complaints?

Students need to have the motivation to journal.  They don’t like to write when they don’t feel the assignment applies to them.  They need to be connected to what they are journaling about.

In How to Assess Authentic Learning, Kay Burke writes:

“Journal writing provokes more reflection and encourages students to take charge of their learning and their feelings. Journals help students make connections between what is really important to them, the curriculum, and the world.”

Teachers need to make it clear to students why they are being asked to write in their journals every day. Yes, you heard me clearly, every day! It is very important that students write in their journals daily so that they can understand the importance of independent thinking.

Students are motivated by teachers taking an interest in what they have to say, or write. Make sure to take the time to read what your students are writing in their journals, and say something about their writing. If teachers just tell their students to write in their journals, and never say anything about the journals, then students aren’t going to feel their thoughts are being valued. They are going to see journal-writing as busy work.

teacher helping student with journal

In my classroom, I would try to comment in their journals at least once a week. They loved getting a note about their writing. I also asked questions that encouraged them to respond, or I might tell them to write more about a subject. I also tried to help them make connections by reminding them about a previous journal entry that connected to another entry they made. This ongoing dialogue I had with my students gave me an opportunity to get to know them better.

If you begin journals on the first day of school and your students know you expect to use them every day, they will come to understand that they will be writing every day. With practice, the writing will become easier for them. Many students actually come to enjoy writing in their journals.

2. Journals Include Only Writing

We have to realize that developing learners may be able to better access literacy skills through images. I have had students that really struggled putting their thoughts into words on paper, however, they were able to explain in great detail pictures they drew. I allowed these students to draw pictures, then I taught them to label their pictures. Finally, I would have them say a sentence about what they labeled then walk them through writing it under their picture. This process helped my developing students to eventually be able to write independently.

Journal Writing for First Grade

Education World says the following about journal writing:

“At St.Joseph School in Waipahu, Hawaii, JoAnn Jacobs has used journal writing for a number of years. Journal writing has been a real help in developing oral language and speaking skills in her first graders, said Jacobs, adding,’I find it to be a very safe structure for beginning writers. A number of my students begin the school year using illustrations only or illustrations plus a few words. Throughout the year, illustrations are replaced by words, and those who began with a word or two are now writing a page.’ “

3. Journals are Only for Language Arts

To foster deeper literacy connections, I started using journals in other subjects like science, social studies, and math. My students began using more disciplinary vocabulary, and I was able to assess their progress through their writing. This is also a great time to encourage your students to create images that access literacy knowledge in these subjects.

An example of this is where I had students draw the life cycle of the frog and the butterfly, then write about it. It helps students to draw pictures of the subject matter before they write about it.

Journal Writing

Math journals are great to see that students are understanding the math skills you have taught. I love using them during guided math groups and have students use them to write their own equations or create their own word problems. We always used these math journals to practice math objectives before a math test and then I sent them home so the parents knew what their children needed to review.

A student writing in her math journal

4. Journals Always Begin with a Writing Prompt

I realize that students may need to be able to write using a prompt to develop test-taking skills. While it is a good idea to have times for them to practice this skill, I have known teachers that always had a prompt for morning journals that also complained about students not wanting to write. I suggest that some of their students struggled with these prompts because they didn’t make any relevant connections to the prompts.

Students need to journal about what is important to them. They need to make connections that they understand.

5. Journals are Forgotten at the End of the Year

Remember earlier when I mentioned how important it is to encourage journal writing every day?

My students wrote about their first day of school or drew a picture, and about their last day of school. It is very important to encourage this daily writing if you want to see your students become more confident writers. I am always so thrilled to see my students’ incredible progress when I compare the first page in their journals and the last page they wrote for the year.

First Day

writing about the first day of school

End of the Year

journal writing in first grade

You may be thinking I just don’t have time to do journals.

I understand. You have so many demands on you and those demands have to be prioritized. You will be surprised at how you can incorporate these journals into your lessons. Make them a priority and you will see your kids grow tremendously.

Share your questions, thoughts, or great ideas in the comments below. We would love to hear from you. Stay tuned throughout the next few weeks for follow-up posts on the importance of journals, uses for journals, and specifics on journal-writing.


Have a fabulous week!










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