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July 20, 2010

Using Journals to Connect with Students

Written By: Jeanette Moreau
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Using Journals to Connect with Students - ReallyGoodTeachers.com

Using Journals to Connect with Students

A lot of educators can probably remember having journals as children. They were gilt-edged books with a shiny brass lock and key that was safely hidden from siblings to keep their prying eyes from seeing the precious secrets held within the individual pages. While today’s journals may look different, the idea of using them as a means to communicate thoughts, feelings, and dreams remains the same.

As a school counselor, I often use journals in my small group and individual sessions as a means to communicate with my students. Used on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, journals can be a great connection and conversation starter for even the most anxious students. I’ve found, though, that there are three key factors to making the most of journaling: making them personal, keeping them focused, and responding to the students’ entries.

Journaling in the Classroom

1. Making it Personal

Making the journals personal really helps the students feel like it is their safe space at school. I actually use the “Ready to Decorate” journals from Really Good Stuff and have found them perfect for this task! Using markers, foam cutouts, glitter, and crayons, the students can personalize their journals to match their specific tastes and to express themselves creatively. I’ve found that the project-orientated nature of this task related to the journals lessens the kids’ initial anxieties about keeping a journal. Plus, it gives immediate insight into facets of the students’ personalities: how inhibited or free they were with their creations, how they organized this open-ended task, or glimpses of personal interests (e.g., drawings of horses, drama masks, sports equipment, etc.).

2. Keep it Focused

Most kids write just like the talk: rambling, run-on sentences with the words falling over themselves, or short, bullet lists direct and to the point or, sometimes, not at all. Keeping the journals focused helps both the run-on kids stay on task and the minimalist kids feel less overwhelmed. The focus of the journals depends on the focus of the sessions, and so the method by which the journals are used also differs from group to group. Sometimes, I provide a template that the kids follow and fill in. It can be a Monday morning or daily check-in place, a spot for kids to write down thoughts that they need to put on hold, or even a little down time for free drawing is just the trick needed to feel re-energized and ready to go back to class.

3. Responding to Students

Kids are just like adults in that some are more private than others. When we first create the journals and discuss what we are using them for, we also discuss confidentiality. Some kids love to share with both me and the other kids, while some kids want only my eyes on them. Also, some kids want to use them as conversation starters for the group, while some kids prefer for me to give feedback privately and individually in their journals. I take my cues and respond appropriately to each student.

Journaling can be a powerful and personal experience. With guidance and support, journals can also be a very effective way for your students to connect with you. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

 

About the Author

Jeanette Moreau is an elementary school counselor who is learning the value of connecting with other counselors via social networking. She blogs at Ms. Moreau’s Musings, where she shares her school’s guidance activities with the school community. You can follow her on Twitter.

Using Journals to Connect with Students - ReallyGoodTeachers.com
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  • Jessica R.
    February 25, 2011

    I love these journals, too, because they have the blank side for illustrating and then the lined side for writing. I use these with my fourth graders for “Quick-Writes”. I hand out random photos, illustrations, and text clipped from magazines and newspapers. The students place their cut-outs on the blank side and do a small brainstorm list or web there as well. Then the students do a quick 5 minute free association writing time based on what their cut-out is.

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  • Susan
    November 16, 2010

    Hi, I just came across this post as I was looking for journal ideas for my fourth graders. I have my kids do a “Weekend News” journal, as well as a reading response journal. I love the idea of having them decorate their own journal–that would be perfect for the news journal! In the reading response journal, I’m thinking about having them illustrate a scene as well as writing a summary to me–anything to get some of the kids more engaged! But I also like the idea of using their journal writing as a discussion starting point–maybe I will have them bring their journals to literature circles to discuss their reflections. Thanks for getting me thinking!

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  • Chewil
    August 17, 2010

    Thank you for helping me to think more creatively!

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  • Allison Y
    July 21, 2010

    What a wonderful idea! I am going to have to check out these ready to decorate journals from Really Good Stuff, I love the idea of the student’s taking ownership of their journal right away!

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  • Barbara
    July 21, 2010

    I used two different journals last year. One for reading responses and one for daily journal prompts. They were great. I asked for parent helpers and we used 12×12 scrapbook paper to wrap the front and back cover. The kids were asked to bring in their own paper so it really made it personal and then some added stickers too- It was great and it was amazing NO ONE lost their journal! 🙂 I’m changing grade levels this year and am planning on using one in math for their open-ended responses – looking for graph paper journals. (Watch for Target they have black and white journals for $0.25- the covers are weak but once covered work like a champ.)

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  • Sabrina
    July 21, 2010

    I teach 5th Grade Math and Science and use journals a few times a week as Reflective Journals. Sometimes I have a prompt for them to guide them- one of my favorites is for them to tell about 3 things they learned that day, 2 things they found fun, and 1 question they have about something we covered. (I use many different variations on the 3-2-1 journal- I make it up as I go!) Other times, the kids have free reign over what they write, as long as it pertains in some way to what we had done in class that day. As mentioned above, the kids who are too shy to ask questions in class really shine in journal time- it is safe for them and they get answers without having to fear being embarrassed in front of the other students. I hope to use them more this year, like as a daily wrap up to the class period. Having students restate in their own words what they are learning about is really powerful, and helps me guide my instruction as well by seeing the misconceptions the students have.

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  • Nichole D
    July 20, 2010

    I have done this in the past with 1st graders, and now that I am going back to 1st grade I will try it again. “Sticker stories” I would place a sticker on a student’s journal page (a sticker with some detail to it) and have him/her write about it. My lower level students would write the “I see” sentences with a few “I like” sentences mixed in and describe what they saw/liked in the “picture”/sticker. My higher level students would start to write a story about what was happening in the picture/sticker.
    I started looking for thematic stickers in stores because my students were liking this so much! They couldn’t wait to take their journal home at the end of the month to show their parents! 😀

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  • Suzanne
    July 20, 2010

    Love Journaling with students of all ages!

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  • Kathy
    July 20, 2010

    After 15 years of teaching, I haven’t thought of letting the kids decorate their journals. I know that my 1st graders would LOVE it! It made me “bonk” my head & say…”why haven’t I thought of that?!” Thanks for sharing!

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  • Christine Hagerman-Holm
    July 20, 2010

    I love the ideas. Due to the disabilities in my classrooms, journals are very hard to do. I keep trying with my higher functioning students!

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  • Denise
    July 20, 2010

    I would love to hear ideas of how teachers who do not teach Language Arts use journals. As I read this article, I thought that it could be used as a place for students to discuss questions they may have about what we are studying but may be afraid to ask in front of the class. Any ideas?

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  • Casey
    July 20, 2010

    I have always used journals in my classroom. I find it very interesting. My students write in them 3 times a week and I pick different individuals to respond to. I like to find out what is going on in my classroom too. My students use them for daily writing but they also use them when they are upset. It is very interesting on how students express themselves. Plus they are not confronting a person when they are mad. The students “write it out”. Then they ask the person to go to the peace table and the talk it out using positive language and feeling words. I use this in a 4th-6th grade classroom and it works very well.

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  • Cheryl s
    July 20, 2010

    I use a journal to help my kindergartners vet confortable with writing. They draw a picture and write about the picture. At the end of the year they look back and see that they just drew and wrote letters and at the end of the year they have sentences and stories!! They love it and they feel comfortable because mainly they write about words they know how to spell. I do topics later in the year, but mainly they write about what they want. It really makes them feel good to journal write.

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  • Elizabeth Winters
    July 20, 2010

    I want to try something new this year. My plan is to leave a journal in the writing center and as part of the center activities have students make an entry. It will be a class journal and they can write about a project we’ve done, a field trip, something they did over the weekend. I’m anxious to see how it will work out. I’ve definatly planned this in pencil. I love the idea of journaling as I kept an online journal this past year during my battle with breast cancer. People would write back and make comments. It helped me cope and gave my readers a better understanding of what breast cancer is and how it changed me for the better.

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  • Shanda J
    July 20, 2010

    We use journals every year, but I love these ideas. Sometimes I feel as though journaling becomes more of a time-filler than a learning and expressing experience. I definitely want to work on the “focus” part of journaling this year!

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