Introducing Journaling Activities

We use these strategies to support student success and engagement as we introduce any journaling activity.

Frame the Purpose of the Activity

We begin by sharing the purpose behind our choice of activity with students. For example, we might say, “This journaling outing will be an opportunity to hone our observation skills” or “This activity will deepen our understanding of animal behavior.” Highlighting specific competencies students will have the opportunity to develop frames the activity as a way to build on students’ existing skills, which can increase intrinsic motivation. We also may share how the journaling activity fits within a wider learning experience and connects to other topics in class. This invites students view journaling as a critical part of the learning process and as related to the rest of class.

Demonstrate the Activity on a White Board

As we give students the instructions for the journaling activity, we do a quick demonstration on a portable whiteboard or pad of paper, adding quick sketches and using horizontal lines to represent words. This shows how students can lay out their journal pages. Each activity on this site includes an example of what this demonstration could look like. Seeing what the activity can look like on paper helps students visualize your expectations and offers increased access to participation for for all learners. For students who are new to journaling, this also offers a place to start, reducing the anxiety of facing a blank page.

Encourage Students to Use Words, Pictures, and Numbers

Nature journaling combines words, pictures, and numbers to record observations and ideas on the page. As we give the instructions for any journaling activity on this site, we suggest saying, “You must include words, pictures, and numbers on your journal page, but use more of whichever is most comfortable for you.” This makes your expectations clear and offers a bit of a push to use approaches for recording information that are more challenging. 

De-emphasize Pretty Pictures

Many students (kids and adults) are nervous about starting journaling because they feel they must produce a piece of Art. But the goal is observation, not art. When we introduce journaling activities to students, especially students new to journaling, we always say, “It’s not about making a pretty picture; it’s about recording accurate observations.” This reminder can help soothe worries that students might have about drawing and reminds them of the goal of the experience. Partway through an activity, we remind students, “If you’re starting to worry about making a pretty picture, turn it into a diagram. Add labels everywhere and focus on showing your observations.”