Journals are often used for classroom writing assignments, and teachers have come up with a variety of prompts and purposes for journal entries. In “How Student Journals Can Spark Curiosity and Inspire Creativity in the Classroom” John Spencer describes five simple strategies to make journaling a creative outlet:
1. Have students write for themselves. “Choose an audience of one,” Spencer advises students. When they know they’re not writing for others to read, students can be bold and creative, and the freedom of the process can result in some exceptional writing. “Let them choose the topics, the length, the style, and the approach,” he writes. “Treat it less like an assignment and more like a tool used to tap into creativity and curiosity.” Sketchnotes, unanswered questions, and bulleted lists all have their place in journaling.
2. Don’t limit journaling to text on a page. Have students use the space for doodling, drawing, diagramming, and informal writing. They might sketch diagrams or images of scientific concepts, or “incorporate elements of interactive notebooks by having students cut out items and tape them in. So, a page in the notebook becomes a short flipbook.”
3. Have students keep their journals organized. Spencer distinguishes between a journal and a diary. A diary is often for jotting down fleeting thoughts, but a journal can be a place to investigate those ideas more deeply or organize them into actionable items. Spencer numbers his pages and keeps an index in the back of the journal. “Other people," he writes, "use a left side/right side process for their journals (words on one side and pictures on the other, or notes on one side and reflections on the other),” he writes. Color coding is another fun and easy way for students to organize their work.
4. Encourage students to “go cheap.” Journaling doesn’t require a fancy notebook. In fact, a more expensive book might lead students to be overly cautious and timid with their writing. “As a teacher, this also means reducing student fear and risk aversion,” Spencer writes. “You might make journals a pass/fail assignment or make them entirely optional. You might say, ‘I’m going to look at your journal but I’m not grading the content.’”
5. Give students time to write regularly. Have them write daily—the process “doesn’t need to be laborious.” But the journal writing doesn’t need to be limited to a formal, designated time: Encourage students to carry their notebook and jot down ideas as they happen. The goal is to have them embrace writing as a spontaneous activity. Encourage students to think of their journal as “a playground,” Spencer writes.