Journals provide a place for informal, exploratory writing. Instructors can use them to encourage students to develop and search for ideas about topics about which they may as yet know little.

Journals offer continuity across a variety of what might otherwise be an overwhelming range of course assignments. Journals may be secondary to other writing assignments or entire courses can be organized around them. Journals provide unparalleled flexibility in assignments and evaluation. They offer student feedback to instructors that they are unlikely to receive in any other way.

For some examples of journal use in UH Mānoa classrooms, see

For further information, see Toby Fulwiler, editor, The Journal Book, a collection of 42 short articles about the use of journals in college classrooms. This book can be found in Hamilton Library or at the Mānoa Writing Program.

Some Tips on Using Journals

Effective journal writing can be organized in many ways. Some of the issues instructors must consider include:

  1. What role(s) will the journal play in the class. Is it to be mostly a record of responses to readings? to lectures? a collection place for all class writings? Some combination of these?
  2. What is the payoff going to be for the students? They are more likely to engage with the project if the journal will help them write a paper, participate in discussions, pass an exam and/or earn a grade.
  3. How will journal writing fit into class time? Journals might become a beginning of class ritual. Or journal writing can be a closing ritual, an activity scheduled for the end of every class. Or journals can be done outside of class.
  4. Will the instructor keep a journal too, writing in class with students and out of class as well? Students usually take journal writing more seriously when they see their instructor writing too.
  5. How will the instructor respond to student journals? Certainly many of the entries should be read and responded to. Reading and responding, however, are different than grading. Grades may be, in fact, the least effective type of response instructors can offer to informal writing such as journals. And, as writing teacher Peter Elbow remarks, teachers don't have to read, much less grade, everything their students write; in fact, especially in a class with journals, teachers who have the time to read everything probably aren't assigning enough writing.
  6. Many successful instructors who use journals require a table of contents and a page-numbering system which allows them to spot check entries and assign a quantity mark to them. Instructors may set up a rotating schedule so that both they and their students know exactly how many journals the instructor will read a week. Students, too, can offer powerful and influential readings and responses to each others journals.
  7. Instructors may wish to specify the appearance they want the journal to take. Some teachers like spiral notebooks; others prefer looseleaf which allows students to pull out pages, staple them with a coversheet, and then reinsert them in the journal when they are returned.
  8. There are several internal formats for journal writing to choose from. Journal texts may consist of informal jottings, or a log or of formal short papers collected together with an introduction. Some instructors prefer single entry and others the double-entry style journal. Typically in double-entry journals facts are written on the left and interpretations or reactions on the right. More discussion of double-entry journals is included below.

(Much of the proceeding list was adapted from Kansas University Faculty Resources). For a discussion of other, related writing-to-learn activities see the Mānoa Writing Program's Writing Activities to Get Students Thinking and Learning.

Double-Entry Journals

Double-entry journals share the benefits of single-entry journals but can be especially effective in teaching students how to become more critical thinkers. They are useful in helping students distinguish between facts and application or analysis.

In double-entry journaling, students are usually asked to write the facts of the reading or lecture or observation on the left side of their journals. The writing may be fragments and phrases, a summary or a paraphrase, depending on the instructor's preferences and the subject matter.

Students use the right side to react to what they have written on the left page. Again, depending on the subject matter and preferences, here are some ways the right side can be used:

  • to compare what has been written to previous assignments or discussions
  • to apply the left-side information to a real world situation
  • to list questions that the information prompts.

Just by looking at the pages, the student can tell if she is focused heavily on facts (left side full with little on the right), heavily on interpretation while skirting facts (right side full with little on the left), or if she has balanced the two.

Double-entry journals can help prepare students for essay exams, for papers and for contributing thoughtfully to class discussions.