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Journaling is an act of agentive note-taking or reflection designed to keep an external thoughts of feelings, insights in more.

The modality of a journal can range from text, to blogs, drawings, and video. The chosen mode often reflects the agency of the author and the discipline of the subject.

Disciplinary literacy refers to instruction that is discipline-specific in nature and attends to the unique ways that experts in each respective field approach and interact with text (Shanahan & Shanahan,2008). A physicists notes will not look like a notebook when critiquing a graphic novel.

Journaling within a subject allows readers and writers to essentially become members of the disciplinary community. They take on the role of disciplinary experts within the pages of the journal and interact with the text in such (Brozoet al., 2013) ways as those who work in the discipline.

Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking.” Journaling provides the tool for better thinking

Research on Journals

The Common Core State Standards, Next Generartion Science Standards, and the 3C Framework for Social studies all call for teachers to support reading and writing with complex texts. Utlizing journals in the discipline (Graham, Kerkhoff, Spires, 2017) either in hybridity with literacy teachers or within the classroom provide the first step.

We must realize note-taking as a monolithic content area skill does not always reflect unique ways of producing external reflections in each discipline. Overall educators must provide (Duffy, 2002; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Fisher & Frey, 2008; Marin & Halpern, 2011) the metacognitive reflection, explicit modeling, and scaffolded approaches. Journaling provides an aevenue while creating assessment artifacts.

In the classroom

In the classroom journaling first revolves around a sense of agency and ownership. We want students to “BE” an historian or a “Newspaper Editor.” This can often include personifying a journal by decorating or picking one to two heroes in the that discipline.

In terms of the Common Core State Standards we are often teaching to the integration of knowledge and ideas, but you embed mini-lessons on author's craft and text structure.

Journaling also provides an opportunity for a more responsive classroom. First you can reclaim the instructional minutes of transitioning into or out of classroom if students walk into a daily prompt

English/Language Arts

In language arts the discipline focuses on the skills of a literary critic, close reading, and the production of creative texts across a variety of genres and modalities (Warren, 2011; Graham, Kerkhoff, Spires, 2017).

In Language arts you end up with two journals, or bifurcate them from the “free-write” or “writing journal” and the journal for textual analysis and critique where you explore the common threads of human condition that exists in all words and texts.

The writing journal helps us to understand what a child knows, how they know it, and why they value it. Students can respond to daily writing prompts and then pick pieces to develop during writing instruction.

Make the writing journal special. You do not assign it for homework and you keep the grading, if any, minimal. You do have to make it a regular part of the class and students need to see you the teacher journaling. You need to share responses from your journal.

Use a variety of prompts and free-writes. Some students may want to explore the deep questions of the human conditions. Others may due their best writing about aliens with bad flatulence.

The writing journal is one of the major tools in establishing your classroom as a community of readers and writers.

Literary Analysis Journal

In terms of literary journals you can break these up by units or novels.

  • Vocabulary Section- Students can highlight words that interest them but as a teacher be intentional in the vocabulary words you develop connected to reading novels.
  • Plot diagram w/ chapter summaries. Take two pages and have students draw the plot diagram map. They can add key events to the timeline as the story progresses. To elevate the lesson you can leave the story blank and have students map the shape of the story.
  • Predictions Have students write predictions and have them back them up with evidence from the text.
  • Character Bios Make player cards or bios for main characters. In younger grades they have graphic organizers shaped like bodies to trace character development.
  • Favorite Quotes What moved students in the book. Remember we often pair novels with informational texts or use current events. Quotes about the book do not have to come from the book.
  • Connections/Reflections What does the reader bring to the book from their own story. They can write about these connections.


In science we often focus our journaling on classification and vocabulary (Graham, Kerkhoff, Spires, 2017). In late elementary school and early middle school we may do word building activities with prefixes and suffixes.

Students need to learn how to skim across multiple sources in science, judge relevancy , and integrate findings.

They need to write procedural steps of inquiry and then iterate on the experiments when they fail. The thinking around these experiments can happen in journals.

Entries in Science Journals

  • Investigation-Data collected through obersvation or experiment
  • Notes-Notes and textual analysis of reading and lecture
  • Reflections-General open ended reflection
  • Vocabulary-Key vocabulary and word building activities based on content
  • Classifications-key learning organized by categories relevant to content.


In mathematics we must see the notebook as more than a procedural tool. So many teachers collect the math notebook and make sure notes, homework, and quizzes appear in the correct chronological order. This assesses organization and not mathematical thinking.

The goal of journaling in math is to not see math as an isolated subject but to see numeracy as a tool for making meaning across disciplines similar to how teachers view literacy.

Entries in a Math Journal

  • Everyday statistics- Find graphical representations of numbers in print and reflect on how the author used the details
  • Notes-The “naked math” of procedural steps to solving algorithm. Many math teachers have success with the Cornell Note method. The students put the steps on the left side, example of each step on the right, and any major take-aways in the bottom box.
  • Corrected Items-Many teachers let students work on previously submitted items and explain why they got the item wrong. Remember assessment data is for meeting needs and not sorting students by performance. Utilize metacognition to reflect on misconceptions.
  • Puzzle section-Every so ofen mix up the math with some pattern recognition puzzles. Hav students reflect.

Social Studies

In social studies we use journals to explore multiple perspectives in history. The goal is to find the message in a text or event and connect it to other texts and events. Finally we want learners to maker assertions about histories causes, its impact on power, and its impact on current events.

Students need to reflect on their use of primary sources and both the content and organization of those sources.

Entries in Social Studies:

  • Vocabulary Section. Use graphic organizers such as semantic feature analysis for deeper vocabulary discussions
  • Key Events
  • Notes-Focus on the key literacy skills of document sourcing and reading primary documents. Take notes during oral lectures.
  • Historical Bios- Build up bios of historical figures and the people who study them.
  • Timeline-Before starting a unit leave a few pages blank for a timeline of vents. Have students add to their journals.
  • In character descriptions-Encourage multiple perspective taking by having place themselves as a character, participant or observer, to key historical events.
  • Sports history-The skills are not different and if it engages people in writing allow them to research and write using primary documents in sports.
journaling.txt · Last modified: 2022/04/04 12:59 by jgmac1106