10 Journal Writing Guidelines for Students to Learn and Use

Do you want to use journaling with your students? Check out our expert journal writing guidelines for students to find success in your classroom.

In the classroom, journaling can be a valuable way to get students writing, even if they are reluctant writers. On the elementary level, student journals often have fun writing prompts that encourage kids to write when they might be reluctant. As students move through middle school and into high school, journaling becomes more detailed and specific, often asking students to reflect on topics read in class.

Either way, journaling can help develop critical thinking skills that can be useful for essay writing. For help with essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers. Here is a closer look at student journals and some guidelines to help students write them well.

What is a Journal for Students?

What is a journal for students?
Students who journal become better thinkers and writers overall, which is why teachers often incorporate this learning technique

A journal for students is a journal that students use to reflect on their thoughts and feelings, to get writing practice, or to record their ideas about the subject matter learned in the classroom. Student journals can become the jumping-off point for valuable discussions in many classrooms. With journals, learners are given time and space to collect their ideas before opening the floor for discussions.

Student journals provide valuable critical thinking opportunities. They also provide a chance to practice writing skills. Finally, they provide freedom to write without fear of a grading rubric hanging overhead. Students who journal become better thinkers and writers overall, which is why teachers often incorporate this learning technique into their lesson planning.

How Do You Write a Good Journal Entry?

A good journal entry will contain an analysis of the material the student is writing about, some self-reflection on the topic, or some of the emotions the writer is feeling. To write a good journal entry, students must reflect on the question and write their thoughts and feelings. Many teachers find they need to teach students these journaling skills because they don’t come naturally. You might also be interested in these articles about assessment.

1. Choose the Journal Type

Before students can journal well, they need to know what type of journal they are writing. A journal may have different types of entries that change based on the assignment, or it may have one over-arching journaling type that extends through the whole journal. The type of journal pages a student writes will dictate the steps to writing a good journal page, so this is the first step in writing a good entry. Some common journal types include:

  • Reflective journal: Reflective journals are personal records of a student’s learning experiences, according to Northern Illinois University.
  • Writing prompt journal: This type of journal uses a writing prompt given by the teacher. Prompts can be fun, creative writing-style activities or directly related to a subject taught in the classroom.
  • Self-discovery journal: The primary goal of this type of journal is to help the student discover something about themselves. A self-discovery journal might be used in a language arts classroom to encourage self-reflection and writing at the same time.
  • Subject journal: This type of journal reflects on lessons taught in a particular subject area, such as social studies or science journal. It can be a way to incorporate language arts and writing skills across the curriculum.

2. Ignore Strict Grammar Rules

While teachers should encourage good grammar whenever possible, student journals are not the place for strict grammar adherence. Instead, they are the place for students to write freely and get their thoughts on paper. Allowing students to write in journals without strict grammar will encourage more critical thinking, and it will also encourage less fear of the writing process for many students. 

That said, the writing should still make sense. Teachers can encourage students to write clearly enough that the reader can understand it, but they should not grade grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax for journals. Leave this critique for more formal papers, and allow journal writing to be a type of free writing.

3. Use a Journal Writing Prompt

When writing a journal entry, students of all grade levels, from elementary school through high school and even college, can benefit from journal prompts. Prompts give the writer a starting point, which can help students overcome writer’s block and allow them to get their thoughts down on paper. A journal writing prompt will depend on the goal of the journal, but some ideas include the following:

  • What would you invent if you were an inventor?
  • Create a new animal or an alien.
  • Which animal most represents you, and why?
  • Imagine you’re in the zombie apocalypse. How will you survive?
  • Write a guidebook for your grandparents to understand your generation.
  • What modern issues concern you most, and why?
  • What do you remember most about (last year’s grade level)?
  • Do you believe in love at first sight/karma/law of attraction/similar ideas?
  • What are 10 things you know to be true?
  • What are the 10 best words in the English language?

Many of these journal prompts encourage thinking skills and self-discovery. They can be adapted for elementary, middle, and high school, depending on the age of the writers. Teachers can also choose subject-specific writing prompts if they require a subject-area journal. The key to a good prompt is leaving it open-ended, so the student can reflect and draw their own opinion on the topic.

4. Spend Time Reflecting

Before students can write a good journal entry, they must gather their thoughts. Students must spend time carefully reflecting and reading the prompt before writing. They can use pre-writing techniques and brainstorming tools to get some basic ideas down before they start directly working on the journal entry. For example, the teacher could give the students a couple of minutes to create a mind map of the topic area, then have them start their journal.

5. State a Topic Sentence

Even though journal writing is less formal than writing research papers and academic essays, students should learn to use topic sentences in their journals. For many writing prompts, the topic sentence is the writer’s opinion or conclusion about the question. Then, the rest of the journal will build reasons behind that topic sentence. Learning to write good topic sentences in a journal will help students in other areas of writing. With the exception of narratives, most types of writing need topic sentences. Journals can be an excellent place to practice this skill.

6. Write Without Stopping

The use of journal writing in school is an attempt to get kids to write, even if they’re typically reluctant writers. The goal should be for them to write as long as possible without stopping in the allotted time frame. After reflecting and brainstorming, they should write with minimal pauses. Set a timer, and then instruct the students to write continuously until the timer goes off. Three to five minutes is often enough time for a daily journal entry. 

If students wish to edit or “clean up” their journal entry, they should do so at the end of the writing process. During the designated writing time, all they should do is write. If you plan to collect the assignment, consider giving students time to erase stray marks or add punctuation, but don’t let them get bogged down on editing and proofreading. Too much time spent proofing or editing the piece will destroy the benefits of writing in a journal because they will become more focused on grammar than getting their thoughts on paper.

7. Be Truthful

Students should be truthful when writing journal entries, even for school assignments. This is no different than if they are writing in their journals. Journal writing is primarily used to reflect on one’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs, even in regard to less personal writing prompts. To encourage students to be truthful, teachers should not judge their opinions when reading journal entries throughout the school year. The journal should be a safe space to explore feelings and ideas without fear of rejection or judgment of those ideas.

8. Draw a Conclusion

Whenever possible, students should be encouraged to draw some sort of conclusion through their learning journal writing activities. The journal gives them a place to work through their ideas, but at the end of the day, they should have a final thought or decision. 

If the journal is a self-reflection style, the conclusion may be more of a personal action plan. The student could discuss steps they will take if they face a similar situation in the future or to achieve a goal. If it’s a subject-specific type of journal, the conclusion could re-state their position or give one final reason why they made the choice they made for their answer to the prompt.

9. Practice Regularly

Few students are good at journal writing the first time they try it, but practice makes perfect. It takes thinking and writing skills to reflect on a topic and then write knowledgeably about it. Learning how to write a journal entry requires regular practice. Some teachers will have their students journal daily, particularly in language arts classrooms.

However, learning to journal daily is challenging, and there may not be enough classroom time to dedicate to daily journaling. For this reason, other teachers will offer weekly journal assignments. Regardless of the frequency, the key to good journaling is including this writing activity in lesson plans so students get used to the process.

10. Try Different Techniques

Try different techniques
Students could do a bullet journal, which isn’t written in paragraph form but rather as a series of short bullet points to get ideas out

Try different journaling techniques in a student journal that has a set focus. For example, one day, students could do a bullet journal, which isn’t written in paragraph form but rather as a series of short bullet points to get ideas out. Students can also do art journaling which incorporates drawing with their written words.

Stream-of-consciousness writing lends itself well to journaling as well. By incorporating different journaling techniques, students can keep their writing fresh and also explore writing styles that are appealing to them. This will also allow the teacher to see what their students can truly do with creative writing.

Journal Writing Guidelines for Students FAQs

What are the types of learning journals?

Student learning journals ask students to reflect on what they have learned in a class or to write their opinion on a subject-related discussion question. Some common learning journals include language arts journals, social studies journals, and science journals.

What’s the difference between a journal and a diary?

Understanding the difference between a diary vs. journal is important to use these tools well. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a diary records daily experiences. A journal incorporates analysis, emotion, or self-reflection. It can include a record of the daily experience, but only if it includes emotions and reflection. Journals are often used in the classroom.

If you liked this article and want to put these ideas into practice, check out our round-up of storytelling exercises.


  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.