Learning journals for young learners: what, why and how?

In this month’s blog post Katherine shares some ideas for using learning journals with young learners. She explains what they are, why they are a good idea and how they can be used. She also provides a simple reflection task to support your professional development. We invite you to send us your feedback. By sharing experiences we can learn a lot from each other.

Learning journals for primary children: what, why and how?

Learning journals are nothing new. We usually see them being used with older students, teenagers or adults. But journals can also be extremely useful in primary classes when used in an age appropriate way. In this blog post, we’ll look at the what, why, and how of learning journals in relation to primary children.

Learning journals: what?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to learning journals and this is especially true when they are used with children. The most important thing is that the journals are viewed favourably by those who are using them. For the purpose of this blog post, I talk about journals in the form of physical notebooks but digital versions can be used in the same way. A journal provides a place to record reflections on learning, keep records of language learnt, classroom experiences and progress. It can also be a place to outline personal targets and goals.

Key points for a successful learning journals project

  • Introduce the subject of learning journals in a way that excites and motivates the children. If possible, show them an example of a journal.
  • Provide every child with a notebook. Plain notebooks are best so that they can personalize the covers with their names, drawings and stickers.
  • Turn journal writing into a regular classroom routine. How often you use them is up to you but for younger children it’s probably best to have short journal spots in every lesson.
  • Have regular conversations with children about the journals. Try to reach a consensus about how and how often to use them. The more involvement they have in how the journals are used, the more likely they are to be engaged with the process.
  • Make sure learning journals are fun for children, an activity that allows for creativity, experimentation and personalization. The fewer rules, the better.

Learning journals: why?

Learning journals are a useful way of giving children time to think. We all understand the importance of developing thinking skills but we don’t always have time to focus on this explicitly.  Both LOTS (Lower Order Thinking Skills) and HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) can be addressed in journals through simple, creative reflection tasks. Children can be encouraged to look back and look ahead, to think about achievements and goals. Keeping a journal encourages children to take ownership of their learning and develop important life skills such as organizing knowledge, classifying information and expressing ideas.

Learning journals: how?

Learning journals can be used in many different ways, from formal records of test marks and homework tasks, to personal reflections on learning and freer activities using words and images. Follow these steps for a successful learning journal experience.

  • Start off by guiding children with suggested tasks and ideas.
  • Build in ideas that include drawing and doodlings. For example after a lesson about animals, get children to write inside an animal shape.
  • Get children to use the pages in different ways, dividing pages into sections and writing from different angles.
  • Encourage children to use different coloured pens and to add illustrations.
  • Older children can add photos or other cut-outs.
  • Encourage self expression and creativity.
  • Agree with each child about who can see the journal entries. They can be shared with the teacher, parent or carer, shown to classmates or kept private.
  • Don’t correct learning journals unless a child specifically asks you to. There are plenty of opportunities for correction in day-to-day class work and homework.

Do all of these things and your learners will soon start to surprise you with their own ideas.

Ideas for guided tasks

Think about today’s lesson and …

  • write one interesting thing you learnt.
  • write 3 questions to ask your teacher.
  • draw around your hand. Write five new words in the fingers.
  • complete the sentences: Today we learnt about … I sat next to … I enjoyed …

Think about your class and …

  • draw and write a sentence about a classmate who is kind / good at (drawing) / funny / etc.
  • draw and label your classroom.
  • write 3 sentences about your teacher. E.g. My teacher’s name is Miss Grey.

Think about learning English and …

  • write 3 things you can do at home. E.g. I can listen to an English song.
  • write a ‘to do’ list with 5 things. E.g. Learn 5 new animal words, etc.
  • write your favourite words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.
  • draw 4 things that remind you of learning English.

Think about getting better and …

  • write ten English words that are difficult to spell (look for them in a dictionary).
  • write the words to a favorite song (find them online).
  • write words beginning with ‘A’, a one-letter word, a two-letter word, a three-letter word, etc.
  • write five facts about a place / a person / a film / an animal, etc.

Think about English and …

  • write a list of English words and phrases you see outside school. Make a note of where you see them.
  • write a list of words that are the same in English and your language.
  • write 10 pairs of rhyming words. E.g. cat & hat. Draw funny pictures to illustrate the rhymes.

Reflection task

Try out learning journals with your class and spend some time completing the reflection tasks below. This can be done in your own professional development journal or in a discussion with a colleague.

Were the learning journals a success?

  1. How did the learners respond?
  2. Did all learners complete journal tasks?
  3. Did any of your learners surprise you in any way?
  4. Did you or your students encounter any problems? If ‘yes’, how did you resolve them?
  5. Would you continue to use learning journals?

If ‘No’, why not? If ‘Yes’, would you do anything differently?

If you try learning journals with your class, we’d love to hear how it goes.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Author: Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.


  1. Hello,
    I am not using journals. I want to try them but the problem is that I have an overcrowded classroom. Do you have any solutions ?

    1. Hi Anissa, thank you for taking the time to comment. I think you could easily use journals with a large group of pupils without making it too much extra work for you. For example, you could set up ‘journal buddies’ so that pupils look at each other’s journals and comment or leave a message. This kind of peer work means you, as a teacher, don’t have to do anything – except maybe check that the journals have been used. Another idea is to choose 5 pupils’ journals to look at each week. That means you wouldn’t be looking at all of them every week. And of course, you don’t have to even look at all – the idea is that the journals belong to the pupils and they control what goes on in them (within reason). Maybe you could a journal day when pupils show you one thing from their journals by marking the page with a piece of coloured paper, etc. But it really shouldn’t mean extra work! good luck.

    2. I don’t think a large class should stop you from using journals. Ultimately this is a learner-centred activity and you could either just have the students write and not engage oat all. Or you could ask for volunteers to read out extracts. It’s the ‘writing’ that is important and the reflection.

    1. Hi Anissa, there are various ways you could respond. You could read and write a comment. You could read and provide some language feedback. It depends on you and your learners. I suggest discussing it with them and asking them how they’d like you to respond. Good luck!

  2. A really useful blog, full of practical ideas. I will use your ideas for my CPD session with my teachers here in Uganda. Thank you. Looking forward to reading more.

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