Types of Journal Writing

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 2 class periods
10 minutes to make copies
Materials: Match the Journal to the Job” and “Dialectical Journal Exercise” handouts


Students now have an understanding of the value of journal writings as literature and as historical records, and have explored the various purposes behind journal keeping. However, students may still not see how their own journal writing is valuable to them as individuals. In this lesson, students will examine the practical uses of journals and will discover how journal writing can help them academically and personally. They will also be able to explain different types of journal writing, and decide which style works best for them.

Purpose – This lesson is an explore / explain piece which allows students to explore how writing in a daily journal can be of use to them, and explain the different styles of journal writing.

Students will be able to:
1. Discover the various styles of journal writing and decide which style best suits specific writing purposes.
2. Explain the various types of journal writing and the practical applications of journaling in various academic disciplines.

National English Education Standard
Standard 12: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Teacher Background
The teacher should be familiar with the three types of journal writing reviewed in this lesson: Dialectical, Creative, and Personal journals.

  • Personal journals are primarily for recording daily events, thoughts, and reflections. These may include self-analysis, discussion of personal beliefs or goals, and evaluation of real-life situations. In this type of journal, free form writing is acceptable, and less attention is paid to writing conventions such as spelling and grammar.
  • Dialectical journals can be written in many ways, but generally have the same format as double-column notes. These journals are meant to aid in analysis and encourage meta-cognitive processes. They are flexible and can be used in any discipline, including English, science, social studies, and math. In the left hand column, students record FACTS (this could be a summary of an article, observations about an experiment, historical details, or steps in a mathematical equation). In the right hand column, students write their REACTIONS, thoughts, questions, and conclusions concerning the factual material in the left column.
  • Creative journals are designed to be a creative outlet for the imagination. These journals are primarily used in English classes, but can also be used in other disciplines. This journal gives the student a chance to write creatively, primarily poetry, fiction, and narratives. Students might create a fictitious journal for an imagined character or historical figure, and write fictional newspaper articles as well.

Related and Resource Websites
Dialectical journal writing:
Creative journal writing: http://www.creative-journal.com/
Personal journal writing: http://vtvt.essortment.com/journalwriting_rsob.htm



Day 1
1. Before class begins, write the following journal prompt on the board:

How is your day going? Write about all the things you have done or experienced today, up until this moment. Then, reflect on how you feel about the events of your day. Or, write about whatever is on your mind right now. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.

2. Instruct the class to take out their notebooks and write at least a half page response to the writing prompt. Give the class approximately 10 minutes to write. Tell the class that no one will read their journal entries except you and the journals will stay in a safe place in the classroom.

3. After journal writing, ask the class how they felt about the prompt. Some questions:

  • Was the entry easy to write?
  • Was it difficult?
  • Why?
  • What was the purpose of this journal entry?
  • What were you writing for?

4. Explain to the class that this is one type of journal called a Personal Journal. Ask the class to think about and identify

  • the qualities of a personal journal
  • the various purposes of keeping a personal journal

List student responses on the board.

5. Continue discussion by explaining that there are two other forms of journal writing which authors use.

6. Ask the class to think about what are other reasons why people keep journals, aside from self-reflection. If students struggle with this question, ask them to think about what kind of journals Da Vinci kept. Students should remember that Da Vinci’s notebooks contained his scientific ideas, studies, and numerous drawings of the human anatomy.

  • Note that for this scientific journaling, the Dialectical Journal is a useful tool. Explain to the class the format of the dialectical journal, and discuss how it can be used in various disciplines.
  • Finally, conclude the discussion by exploring the purposes and format of Creative Journals with the class.

7. Now that the class is familiar with these 3 types of journal entries, distribute the handout Match the Journal to the Job.

8. Review the instructions with the class, and have them match each writing purpose with the appropriate journal type.

9. Have students answer the questions individually or in groups, and collect this assignment for assessment. If time allows, you may discuss the answers at the end of the hour (only after the handouts have been collected).

Day 2
1. Before class begins, write the following journal prompt on the board: “Which journal type most appeals to you: dialectical, creative, or personal journaling? Explain why you think this type of journaling best suits you.”

2. Allow students to write their responses in their journals for about 5 minutes. Then, you may wish to take 5 minutes and discuss their answers to see why they prefer one type of journaling over another. Explain to the class that they will practice using all three forms of journal writing over the next few weeks.

3. After wrapping up discussion, explain to the class that today they are going to focus on the dialectical journal entry, which is the most flexible and can be used in many different ways. Ask the class to recall the basic features of a dialectical journal entry: double-column format, left column contains facts; right column contains your reactions, opinions, questions, etc.

4. Have the students explain what a dialectical journal is used for (to analyze and interpret information). You may want to take 5 minutes and use an overhead projector to model how to fill out a dialectical journal entry.

5. Students will now practice writing dialectical journal writing for a variety of purposes. You may execute the following activity in a variety of ways, but all students should practice writing at least one dialectical journal entry from the Dialectical Journal Exercise handout.

6. Students may work independently and complete all three entries during class. You may also put students into pairs and allow them to pick two of the three journal entries to write. Another possibility is dividing the class into three groups, giving each group one of the journal entries to write, and then having each group present to the class how they used the information to compose the entry, demonstrating their process on an overhead projector.

Collect journal entries at the end of the hour, and ask the class to explain in a few sentences how dialectical journals can be used in their math, science, and social studies classes.

Have students select an article from a local or online newspaper on a topic that interests them, and have them compose a dialectical journal entry containing a summary of facts from the article in the left-hand column and their reaction, opinions, and questions on the article in the right hand column.

Embedded Assessment
Student assignments (day one: “Match the Journal to the Job”, day two: “Practice with Journaling”) should be assessed to determine if students understand the various types of journal writing and their purposes. Students should be able to explain the format and various uses of a dialectical journal in particular.


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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