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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Journal Writing

Why Journal?


“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”                                    – Joan Didion


Journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition, one that dates back to at least 10th centuryJapan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. Presidents have maintained them for posterity. Oscar Wilde, 19th century playwright, said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Journaling is also beneficial for the typical citizen. The benefits of journaling are numerous.

Journaling has been shown to strengthen the right brain, the area of the brain that is creative and intuitive, as well as the left brain, the area of the brain that is rational, intellectual, and orderly (Dowrick, 2007). The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.

Journaling offers you the chance to reflect on what you are learning and experiencing (Spalding & Wilson, 2002) because journaling triggers metacognition – the ability to think about one’s thinking – requiring you to think about how you are thinking and how to express that it writing (Urquhart & McIver, 2005).

Journaling is a means of recording your personal thoughts, daily experiences, and evolving insights. You also are able to review or reread earlier writings to gain perspective or obtain clarification of previous events, feelings or thoughts. Journaling can also be used as a means for recording parts of books and articles you read, insights gained, new ideas you find, and reflection of your own personal growth. (Purcell, 2006).

You may also use journaling as a means for critical self-reflection when dilemmas, contradictions or changing life-views occur. Writing about these occurrences allows you the private time and space to explore, work through and hopefully resolve these moments in your growth.

Keeping track of what you did and when is another aspect of journal keeping. The ability to look back on your progress at the end of each school year will help you recognize the effort and commitment you have made to your education.

Finally, if you are hurt or angry about something that happens, a journal is a great place to vent your feelings. This may help take the “edge off” how you are feeling and make you more capable of handling the situation calmly and effectively.

Journal writing captures our thoughts and feelings on paper. This shows us how we think, create, learn and intuit. When we can see what we’re thinking, we can work with our thoughts in new ways. We break through habitual patterns to discover our innate wisdom and creative genius. (Hiemstra, 2002)


Types of Journal Writing


There are such a variety of journal writing “types” that it should be easy for everyone to find a type which fits his or her style. Once familiar with the types of journal writing, you may want to choose one type and stick with it for the year, or switch among the types to fit your mood, or the constraints of your time.

Learning Journals: This is typically a hand-written notebook or pad of paper for recording thoughts, reflections, feeling, personal opinions, and even hopes or fears during the learning experience. The process of maintaining this type of journal will help you become more organized and focused on the topic at hand. It may also help with the forming of new opinions, changing beliefs and changing feelings about certain topics.

Diary: This is typically a notebook or booklet of blank pages where you can record your thoughts, feelings, reactions to life, and fears about your experiences. It is usually unstructured, but many students like to keep track of dated entries for reflection at some future time. This is usually the most private type of writing and generally not shared with others.

Autobiography, Life Stories or Memoirs: This type of journal provides you with an arena to record your life experiences. This writing focuses not only on the experiences you have had, but allows you to focus on an understanding of your life experiences especially as they relate to a specific topic. Writing your life story allows you to be self-reflective and may encourage you to share your experiences with others to examine similarities or differences.

Interactive Reading Log: The interactive reading log provides you with a space to copy or record specific information you read, rephrase the reading into your own words then reflect on what the reading means to you personally. It is helpful to begin with a paragraph explaining what you are reading and why, make your entries as you read, and finish with a paragraph or two summarizing your experience.


Making Journaling a Family Activity


Journaling as a family activity allows all members of the family to connect in new ways. Perhaps one family member is quiet while others are boisterous. Often, the quiet person doesn’t always get to share his/her opinion and ideas because the boisterous members are better at being heard. A journal that is shared with the entire family allows everyone to have an equal voice in the discussions.

Sharing family stories used to be done around the dinner table, around the camp fire or for simple family entertainment. With our fast-paced lives and technology, often these stories go untold. Recording family stories is way to record family history and create a shared family history and vision.

Family journaling also allows senior members of the family to share their life experiences and wisdom gained from those experiences while allowing younger members to share their hopes and dreams for the future.

Family journals allow readers to see the world through another family member’s eyes. Gaining a new perspective on an event or idea by reading what someone else thinks about it broadens the family vision and allows for empathy to be shared among family members.

Finally, family journaling allows everyone to feel connected. Being able to share one’s feelings and read about another family member’s feelings about the same thing helps the family to feel connected. (Huxley, 2003).

Family journaling can take many forms. One simple way to begin family journaling is to create a space for a common family journal where all family members are welcome to read and write in. Making time once a week when the family gets together to volunteer to read from their journals also works. What is important is to create a family dynamic that is sustainable around journaling, whatever form that takes for your family.


If you are new to journaling, it is a good idea to explore several types of journal writing. Practice with each type will provide you an opportunity to explore which type fits your style of reflection and, hopefully, you will be comfortable using many of the types to fit your desired outcome. (Hiemstra, 2002)



Journal Writing Guidelines

  1. Use a standard, spiral notebook for your journal.


  1. Use your journal only for writing. Do not use it for other subjects


  1. Write in your journal outside of the required writing assignments, as well as for prewriting and drafting for your writing assignments.


  1. Write about topics that interest you.


  1. Experiment with new writing forms and styles in your journal.


  1. You will be “graded” for completion. I will not read your journal unless you invite me to. I will flip through pages to be sure you have completed the assigned amount of writing.


  1. Take some of your good journal entries and develop them into polished pieces.


  1. Review your journal periodically and see how you are growing as a writer.


*Templates for each “journal” type are provided below.


Learning Journal



What I learned today:











My thoughts about what I learned today:










How I feel about what I learned today:










Other areas of my life I can apply this new knowledge to:












Date :___________________________





































Autobiography, Life Stories, Memoirs


            I remember when…








































(Be sure to include sensory details: what you heard, saw, felt, smelled and tasted, as well as how you felt about the experience then and how you feel about the experience now.)


Interactive Reading Log

What I’m reading and why:






Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________




Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________





My thoughts about this:






Excerpt or Quote: _________________________________________________________




Rephrasing of Information: ________________________________________________________________________





My thoughts about this:





Summary of what I read:




Student will be assessed based on oral description of assigned reading materials, completion of worksheets and evidence of self-motivated writing assignments.

I moved into my first house when I was 19 years old. My husband and I had very little money since I was still in college and he was a new teacher. Still, right away I was motivated to improve my new house. With very little money, the easiest transformation was to fix up the yard. When you do the work yourself, moving dirt, getting cuttings from family and friends and planting these cuttings, and clearing weeds is cheap. It also improved the property so much so, that neighbors came by to comment and friends were impressed.

I did not have any gardening experience before that first house. I had never worked in the yard as part of my chores, never taken a horticulture class at school, nor ever thought before buying that first house that I would be interested in gardening.

Twenty-five years later, I have a beautiful yard in my third house. I am a self-taught gardener. I still have never taken a class, but I have paid attention. First I bought lots of books about gardening. I read through them carefully, studying the names of plants, the diagrams for planting schemes, and the pictures of gardens I liked. Then I paid attention to the gardens in my neighborhood. If there was a plant in a neighbor’s yard I liked, I went to the nursery and asked about it. If my neighbor had entire plantings I thought were beautiful, when I saw that neighbor out, I would strike up a conversation the next time I saw that neighbor and ask lots of questions. And, I experimented. There have been lots of misguided plantings in all of my yards. In other words, when I decide to plant my yard, I pay attention.

Gardening is like writing. When I begin to plant in a new yard, I pay attention to other gardens and gardeners in the area. A desert garden is different than a valley garden. When I begin to write a new piece, I pay attention to other writing in that genre and other writers of that genre. A legend is different than a research report. Paying attention means reading in that genre.

In the National report put out by Alliance for Excellent Education, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York, it is acknowledged that reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course (Graham, S., & Perin, D. 2007). To grow as a writer, you must become a good reader.

Besides, reading can motivate your own writing. There is the legend of James Fenimore Cooper, that after reading a western novel of his time, he commented to his wife that he could write a better book than the one he just read. His wife told him to go ahead and do it, then. And he did, becoming one of the most celebrated writers of westerns. Currently I am working on a series of essays about my job. Mr. Cooper was inspired by other writers through his belief that he could do better.

On the other hand, reading other writers can inspire you to improve your own writing by trying to write as well as writers you love. After I write a first draft of an essay, I read other writers I enjoy and admire. I look for how these writers successfully completed their essays then apply those techniques to my own writing. I am motivated to improve my writing through reading the writing of others.

Good writers are excellent readers, so in addition to your writing assignments, you need to read.  The reading should be enjoyable and introduce you to both classic literature that every writer needs to be familiar with, as well as introduce you to new writers you may not yet know.

It’s a good idea to complete a reading log for each reading session. The reading log allows you to record what you read, summarizing what you read. Writing summaries is a skill you will need for most types of writing, whether for tests at school, providing readers summaries of information that is pertinent to your topic, but not the focus of your essay or story, or completing incident reports at work. Like any skill, the more you practice the skill, the better you will be at it. Remember that to write a summary, you need to record the who, where, when, what and why of the reading you’ve completed. The expectation is that the summary will be written in complete sentences, in paragraph form.

Reading for 20 minutes five days a week should inform the type of writing you are completing. Reading is part of any writing curriculum, just like weeding is part of any gardener’s chores. The weeding is never admired, but all good gardeners know that without weeding, the most avid planter will not have a garden. Likewise, though reading is not the measurable part of this curriculum, without it writing quality pieces is very unlikely.

After twenty-five years as a public school educator, a published writer and a writing tutor, it is time for me to share my perspective on how to teach writing.