Using Journals in the Secondary Classroom

Student writing at desk in classroom
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Journal writing is an incredibly flexible instructional tool, useful across the entire curriculum. While often used as a class startup activity, it is used primarily to give students an opportunity to speculate on paper, confident that their ideas, observations, emotions, and writing will be accepted without criticism.


The potential benefits of journal writing are many, including opportunities to:

  • Sort out experiences, solve problems and consider varying perspectives.
  • Examine relationships with others and the world.
  • Reflect on personal values, goals, and ideals.
  • Summarize ideas, experience, and opinions before and after instruction.
  • Witness his academic and personal growth by reading past entries.

By reading journal entries, teachers get to know students':

  • anxieties
  • problems
  • excitements
  • joys

Negative Aspects

Use of journals does have two possible downsides, including:

1. The potential for the teacher to hurt students' feelings with criticism.

Remedy: Offer constructive criticism rather than a critique.

2. The loss of instructional time needed to teach course material.

Remedy: Instructional time can be conserved by simply limiting journal writing to five or ten minutes a period.

Another approach to conserving time, however, is to assign journal topics relating to the instructional topic of the day. For example, you could ask students to write a definition of a concept at the beginning of the period and at the end of the period to describe how their concept had changed.

Subject Matter Journals

Curriculum oriented journal entries have the advantage of letting students relate personally to the topic before instruction begins. Asking for a summary of learning or for a question or two the student still has at the end of the period enables students to process and organize their thoughts about the material covered.

Student Privacy

Whether the teacher should read journals is debatable. On one hand, the teacher may wish to provide privacy so the student will have maximum freedom for expressing emotions.

On the other, reading entries and making an occasional comment on an entry helps establish a personal relationship. It also allows the teacher to use the journal for start-up activities which must occasionally be monitored to assure participation. This is particularly important for academic journal topics and the use of journals for a start-up activity.

  • Students should be cautioned to remove extremely personal entries from their journals whether they are kept in the classroom or not.
  • Entries the student regards as personal but that wouldn't devastate their lives if they fell into the wrong hands, can be folded and stapled closed. Teachers can assure students they will not read stapled pages and that the condition of the stapled paper would prove it had not been disturbed.
  • Students should be protected from having other students read their journals by secure storage.


  • Fulwiler, Toby. "Journals across the Disciplines." December 1980.
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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "Using Journals in the Secondary Classroom." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Kelly, Melissa. (2020, August 27). Using Journals in the Secondary Classroom. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Using Journals in the Secondary Classroom." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).