Journaling for Elementary Students: How to Get Them Writing

Journaling, for elementary students, might seem inaccessible or pointless — like “extra writing” on top of what they do now. But journaling at a young age has numerous academic and personal benefits. And the writing process doesn’t have to be boring, either.

Read on for:

  • what exactly we mean by “journaling”
  • different types of journal subjects and formats
  • the benefits of journaling for elementary students
  • how to get your child started with a journal

What is journaling, exactly? How is it different from a diary?

Some journals lean more towards the diary format. Students keep a running record of the observations and events of their lives. They may also offer their perceptions and emotional responses to aspects of their lives. Diaries are more free form, and definitely have their place in the young writer’s life.

Journals, on the other hand, can be free form or more focused on one subject or topic. We encounter them often. For example, the American Psychological Association has a journal full of articles that focus broadly on psychology, with specific subtopics within it.

Basically, a diary can always be considered a journal, but a journal isn’t always a diary.

Related: Students need transition words to talk about sequences of events in their lives. Read more about cause and effect transition words here.

What kinds of journals can elementary school students make?

Possible journaling topics for elementary students: learning, feelings, interesting topics. Graphic of girl writing on piece of paper, with thought bubbles around her.

These are all different ways to journal. Different journaling types have different benefits.

Students can use journals inside the classroom and at home. They may interact with you on the page, or their journals might be private.

It all depends on the purpose of the journal.

Academic Subject Journals: Showing Growth, Understanding, and Misconceptions

A lot of people, including teachers and parents, think journals are just for reading and writing classes.

But they can actually be used for many subjects — but especially for math class.

Using math journals gives students the chance to:

  • reflect on their learning and problem-solving strategies
  • put math into words, both verbally and on the page
  • build number sense, which is essential for understanding math in the real world
  • document their growth and progress, which will improve their confidence around what might be an intimidating subject for some
  • show teachers and parents the misconceptions they have, and what extra help they may need

You can see similar benefits in science classes, and in these 20 types of learning journals that help students think.

Topic of Interest Journals: Students engage in deeper thinking and further learning.

Students don’t have to be limited to academic subjects. They could pick a topic, like pets or a favorite game, to write in depth about.

Writing about something they like encourages students to keep journaling, and to really reflect on something they care about.

You might consider guiding students when they’re writing about a topic they’re interested in. 

Give them different journal questions about their topic that encourage them to expand their thinking. Otherwise, they may end up writing very similar entries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the purpose of a journal is to go deeper — different prompts can help them do just that.

Experience and Emotion Journals: Journaling for Elementary Students to Learn to Process

These types of journals are especially beneficial for students who struggle to label and express what they’re feeling

Taking their feelings and putting them in a journal helps them — helps anyone, really — can help them see how things affect them, process events and de-escalate any strong emotions.

Emotion journaling for elementary school students offers them a safe place to go with their feelings. To make sure they feel safe, let them know that they can share their journals with you, or they can keep them private.

Overall Benefits of Journaling for Elementary Students

Students have a place where they don’t need to worry about writing “the right way.”

Most assignments in elementary school are made to help students with spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Of course these are necessary for reading and writing proficiency — but the idea of writing needing to be “correct” can turn students away from writing.

Journaling can give them a place to freely express themselves without worrying if it’s “right or wrong.”

Writing about anything improves students’ writing skills.

The more students write, the more they may draw on new writing skills to express themselves.

If your child learns about dialogue, they may start including conversations they have. They can practice using the right format for this specific writing element. They can figure out when it makes sense to record a conversation and when they should just give a broad overview of what happened in an interaction.

Related: This is the secret, nearly neglected part of teaching elementary students how to write effective dialogue.

You and your child get a record of their thoughts, memories, and perspectives to look back on later.

While a picture says a thousand words, actual words on a page will give you and your child a peek into how they experienced the world at any given time.

This might not mean much to them right now, but your child will probably enjoy looking back on their young lives — and we’re sure you will, too.

Journaling gives students the opportunity to build relationships.

Prompt-and-response journals are set up so that students answer a given question or respond to a prompt, and a parent or teacher responds to it.

You and your child could write “letters” to each other. 

It could be about their feelings and perceptions, which gives you a window into your child’s life in a low pressure, non confrontational way.

You can respond to their topic of interest journal entries, which shows them that you’re interested in their lives. This makes them feel seen, and you can connect with them off-page by engaging in their interests. 

For example, if they decide to write about a certain video game they love, you can talk about it with them after reading. You could go so far as to play the game with them — actively engaging with your child in this way really does matter to them.

How to Help Your Child Start a Journaling Practice

Read example journal passages with your child.

Before your young student starts writing, they need to understand the structure of the journal — which they can get from reading example works.

Choose a text that’s written in a journal format and read along with your child. Take the time to point out the text features that are unique to journal entries, such as the date, helpful illustrations, and any salutations, such as “dear ___,”.

Related: This is how to teach text features to elementary students in a way they’ll enjoy.

When possible, have your young writer decorate their own journal.

If your child wants to spruce up their journal, show them these beautiful, simple journal decoration ideas.

Your child doesn’t need an expensive hardback journal to create something that lasts.

Any type of blank booklet, or even just printer pages folded in half and stuck together, can work as an open space for exploration.

But they are more likely to enjoy the journaling process if they have something beautiful to come back to.

If you have them, students can use colored pencils, post-it notes, stickers, drawings, and any other interesting things to decorate the cover of their journal and the pages inside.

Set aside a specific time for them to journal every day, every other day, or once a week.

Here are 15 personal journaling prompts to help your child with self reflection.

Getting students to journal every day is obviously the best schedule, writing-wise. But sometimes it’s not always possible to stick to an everyday writing practice. That doesn’t mean they should give up on journaling.

Fit in journaling time whenever you can, but try to make that time consistent.

This helps your child build habits, which is an essential skill they will be grateful for later in life.

You might have to remind them to journal at first, and even sit them down with their journal. But after a while, they may end up really enjoying it.

Journaling is not only for elementary school students. Journal with your child.

Journaling with your child has a lot of benefits:

  • you can use this time to respond to your child’s journal entries, if that is the journal format your child is writing in
  • your child will see that you also use this practice, essentially showing them that it is a valuable thing to do
  • your journal can be a place for you to work out your own emotions and relieve stress, which is always helpful as a parent, and in general
  • doing something at the same time as them helps you build a reflective journaling habit, too

Your child may be resistant to writing on the daily (or writing anything they don’t “have to”) but keep at it. They will appreciate it later on.