Classroom Journal Tips

Keeping journals is a great way to help students keep new information recorded and stored in a neat and useful way. Many teachers give their students notebooks for each core subject and expect students to maintain their own journal to use for note taking during lessons and future reference. I love this idea! I’ve done it with my own classes. But if you’re going to do journals, do them the smart way. Here’s what I mean:

1. Choose a specific color for the subject. Get that same color journal for each student. If you can’t find an entire class set of 1 color, try 2 colors that are easy to remember. So when your student says “Wait! Which one is our science journal?” You can tell them what color notebook to look for. Also make sure the notebooks are clearly labeled with the student’s name, classroom number and what subject the journal is for. Tell students at the beginning of the year that the journal is only for that subject, not for drawing, writing notes to a friend, etc.

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2. Use the first sheet (front/back) for the table of contents. Each time you have students start a new journal entry/topic, have them add it to the table of contents. Then, when they’re looking for their notes on a certain topic, they’ll be able to fins it easily. This also means your students need to add page numbers as they go. I have conflicting thoughts about writing in all the page numbers in the beginning. PRO- you don’t have to worry about it each time you start a new set of notes. CON- if your kids tear out pages, they can get confused when there’s no page 16.

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3. Do projects directly in the journal… or have them glued in when kids finish the project. This way, you can refer back to projects/assignments you’ve done when you need to review for a test, etc.

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4. Pockets are awesome. Sometimes you want students to keep a project, but you don’t want it glued down. So pockets do the trick. Fold down one corner of a sheet and staple it to the page behind it. Label the pocket, so kids will know what goes in the pocket. Some teachers like the triangle cut off, but I sometimes just have them staple it down to save time (I walk around with the stapler, since it just seems to work out better when I do it). Make sure you have the folded triangle on the outside, or sometimes things get stick inside the pocket. Cut or staple the triangle piece, it’s up to you…

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If you have to combine 2 subjects into one notebook, you’ll have to figure out a way to keep the subjects straight. Some teachers have the kids start one subject on one side, have them flip the book over and start from the back on the second subject. This way, there are 2 front covers and no back cover. My only caution with this is to make sure your kids understand how this flipping ordeal works and that they open to the right part of the book each time you start a lesson.

I also make a sample journal as the students make theirs. This way, I can model exactly how I want theirs to look, and the struggling kids can just copy me each time.

Oooh! One more thought. Sometimes, for really important things, I give students a quarter sheet of colored paper and ask them to write main ideas on it before gluing it to the page. This way, you’ve got the effect of highlighting without the mess of the marker. And everyone’s looks the same. For my 6th grade math journals, I did this with things like formulas. This way, I could always say “the formula you need is on a bright orange square in your journal. Go find it in your notes.”

One teacher I discussed this with keeps lots of extra copies of a hundreds chart handy so she can use them in math journals.

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