A History of Journal Writing

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 3 class periods
1 hour to review source materials and make copies
Materials: Copies of journal entries by Leonardo Da Vinci, Virginia Woolf, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Anne Frank, or other authors you have selected. Also, excerpts from the Mormon Pioneer Journals  


In this lesson students will learn about the ways journals have been a vital form of writing in the lives of many people through the generations.

Purpose – This lesson represents the engage and explore portions of the learning cycle. Students will reveal what they already know about journal writing and become more familiar with the valuable ways people have used journals in the past.

Students will be able to:
1. Articulate their prior knowledge concerning the purposes of journal writing.
2. Explore what function journal writing has fulfilled for various cultures and peoples.
3. Read and analyze various journal entries by famous figures in history.

National English Education Standard
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Standard 9: Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Teacher Background
The instructor should be familiar with the history of journal writing and the roles this writing has played in various cultures. Some time should be taken to review the websites listed and to select appropriate texts for this three day lesson. I have selected four primary authors you may investigate, but feel free to explore the diaries of other authors which may be more relevant.

For further reference, see A Book of One’s Own by Thomas Mallon, The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer, or The Many Faces of Journaling- Topics and Techniques for Personal Journal Writing by Linda C. Senn, all of which should be available at your local library.

Related and Resource Websites

Leonardo Da Vinci - http://www.mos.org/leonardo/bio.html
Da Vinci notebook - http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/davinci.html

Anne Frank - http://www.klab.caltech.edu/~ma/annefrank.html

Lee Harvey Oswald - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Harvey_Oswald
Oswald journal excerpts - http://www.russianbooks.org/oswald/moscow4.htm

Virginia Woolf - http://orlando.jp.org/VWSGB/dat/vwbiog.html
Journal excerpt: http://orlando.jp.org/VWWARC/DAT/vwdiary.html
See also “The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 1” ISBN: 0156260360

Immigrant Diaries: http://www.over-land.com/diaries.html

Oregon Trail Diaries: http://www.endoftheoregontrail.org/road2oregon/sa26diaries.html
Mormon Pioneer Journals: http://heritage.uen.org/journals/historical.html



Day 1
1. Begin by writing the question of the day on the board before students come into the classroom: What do you think of when you hear word “journal” or “diary”? Instruct students to write down as much as they can think of on this topic. Allow the class about 5 minutes to ponder and answer the question.

2. Discuss with the class some of their conceptions and impressions about journal writing. Allow the class to share their experiences with journal writing, and then pose the question: Why do people keep journals? You may want to list some of these reasons, which might include: “For personal reasons”, “To write about what happens in your day”, etc.

3. Explain to the class that journal writing is much more than simply keeping a diary. People from many different cultures have written in journals for many different reasons, including personal reflection, record keeping, scientific observation, cultural analysis, and travel documentation. These journals have become a valuable window into the past for historians and readers alike. Over the next week we will be learning about people who kept journals and how those writings served the authors and others who would read their work years later.

4. Write the following names on the board: Leonardo Da Vinci, Virginia Woolf, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Anne Frank.

5. Ask the class to take out a sheet of paper and create a four quadrant grid by drawing a vertical line down the middle and a horizontal line across the center of the page. Instruct them to place one name in each quadrant.

6.Give the class 5-10 minutes to write what they know about each of these four people and how they are important in history. Encourage students to write as much as they can and not to worry about making mistakes. When they finish, compile what the class knows about each of these individuals on the board. Ask the class what these four people all had in common (they were journal writers).

7. Take about 5-10 minutes to give a short biography of Leonardo Da Vinci (see websites above). You may have the class take notes during this mini-lecture so they have the background information available for future reference.

8.After giving this background information, describe Da Vinci's journal-keeping habits.

9. Distribute copies of a few pages from Da Vinci’s notebook to students. In groups or individually, have the class examine, analyze, and discuss what is written in Da Vinci’s journal, how it is written, and what purposes it served.

Day 2
1. Continue to look at journals kept by people of various cultures, exploring the reasons why they kept these journals and how they are useful reading to us today.

2. Students will begin keeping their own journals. Before the class begins, have excerpts of journals by Virginia Woolf and Lee Harvey Oswald copied for each student, or you may use excerpts from two other authors you have chosen. Do not tell the students who has written the journal entries, only specify that one author is a woman, and one is a man.

3. Write the following writing prompt on the board: “What can we learn from reading the diaries of historical figures?” Give the class about 5 minutes to think about and write down their answers to the question.

4. Once students have finished, take about 5 minutes to discuss their thoughts (this should be a review from the previous day).

5. Explain to the class that today we are going to continue analyzing journal entries to discover the reasons why so many people of different cultures kept journals and what we can learn from them.

6. Have the class get into groups of 3-4 people and distribute several copies of published journal entries to each group. Give the students about 15-20 minutes to read and analyze these journal excerpts, using the following questions as a guide:

a) What is the first thing you notice about this journal entry?
b) What are some of the defining characteristics of a journal entry?
c) Can you easily read the text? What roadblocks keep you from fully understanding what the author is saying? What could you do to solve these difficulties?
d) For what purposes do you think this person kept a journal?
e) Was this journal written by a man or a woman? How can you tell?
f) Can you determine the cultural values or beliefs of the author from reading this entry?
g) What details about the location, time period, history, or culture can you discover?
h) Does the author include any geographic or climatic details of the region in this entry? What about the health conditions of the era? Explain.
i) Why do you think this journal was published? What can we learn from these entries?

7. After groups have had sufficient time to analyze the entries, come back together as a class to discuss student findings. To close the lesson, reveal to the class the authors of the journal entries they have read, as well as a short explanation of the historical significance of these individuals.

Day 3
1. On the final day of this engage/explore lesson, have the students read passages from the diary of Anne Frank, a pioneer journal from the development of the old west, or a powerful journal excerpt of your choice. As before, do not tell students the author of the diary.

2. Have copies of the journal entries ready to hand to students as they walk into class, and instruct them to begin reading silently. Give the class enough reading for about 10-15 minutes, and ask them to write a brief reaction (about a page) to what they have read.

3. Have students analyze the journal they have read using the questions from day two as a guide. Have students do this independently and write down their answers for individual assessment. Allow the class sufficient time, about 15 minutes to complete this exercise, and instruct the class that their analysis will be collected at the end of the period.

4. At the close of this lesson, reveal the author of the text if students have not already discovered this, and give a brief historical background of this diary. Discuss with the students why this journal was published and what value it has to us today.

On a sheet of paper, have the students answer the following prompt: Explain the literary, historic, or scientific value of journal entries.

Instruct students to bring a new spiral bound notebook or composition book to class to begin keeping a class journal. This notebook will be only for this class and will stay in the room. The teacher is encouraged to keep a journal along with the class and to also write while the students are writing.

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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