Journal Writing

Grade Levels: 5 - 8


Using the published diaries of Anne Frank, or Zlata Filipovic, introduce students to journal writing, a form of autobiographical writing in which the writer records personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.


40 minutes

Students will:

  • write personal journal entries to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • edit a personal journal entry to sharpen their grammar and spelling skills.
  • share their entry with peer editors and edit the work of others to build collaboration skills.


  • Personal spiral notebook
  • Pens or pencils (pens are preferred to encourage fluency and discourage erasing)
  • Writing prompts
  • Internet access
  • Printouts of the journals for the Teacher Exchange students and/or copies of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and/or Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic


  1. Tell the class they are going to be listening to or reading excerpts from one or more diaries. Each diary is the real-life record of a young girl's or boy's thoughts, feelings, and experiences over a particular time period.
    • Anne Frank's diary is the record of the German-Jewish teenager's experiences in the Netherlands from 1942 to 1944 during World War II.
    • Zlata Filipovic's diary is the 11-year-old's record of her changing life in her native country of Sarajevo during a much later war.
  2. As you read to your students, or as they read to themselves, have them note the personal details that the writer includes in the diary.

    For example, Zlata's first six entries establish her as a typical fifth-grader whose life at this point in her writing may not be too different from your students' own lives. Details for students to note include:

    • Zlata's anxiousness to see her schoolmates again
    • The different ways the children of Sarajevo spent their summer vacation
    • The classes offered at Zlata's school (compared to their own classes)
    • Zlata's love of Saturday morning so she can sleep late

  3. Next, have students discuss the following questions about the writer and her work:
    • Why are the writer's details important?
    • How do they help the reader?
    • What do they tell us about the writer?
    • What questions do you have about the writer?
    • What do you and the writer have in common?

  4. Next, tell students they will be writing their own journals as a week-long (or year-long) project. (You might provide class time for journal writing or assign it as homework.) Ask students to think of these journals as a way to freely explore their thoughts and feelings while also creating a source of ideas for their writing. Also, remind them that their journals should contain the details that may seem unimportant at first, but which add to the reader's appreciation and understanding of the writer. They should also date each journal entry.

  5. To give students ideas for their first journal entries, present the following writing prompts and tell students they will have 5 to 10 minutes (3 minutes for younger students) to write. Direct them to try to write nonstop and avoid erasing. Most students will be comfortable beginning with short, sustained writing times, building up to longer times as their fluency increases. Some good prompts for beginning journal entries include:
    • What I did last weekend (or hope to do this weekend)
    • My experiences in the school cafeteria this week, for better or worse
    • What really makes me frustrated or mad, and why
    • What really makes me laugh
    • How I spend my spare time
    • My best memory ever
    • Inside my head today
    • A typical day in my life at school

      You might also have students suggest prompts for journal writing, especially after they find the prompts that have worked well.

  6. You can help motivate students to write in their journals by writing in your own journal and sharing your writing.


  • After students have written at least five journal entries, allow them to pick their best entry, revise it, and submit it for peer editing and grading. Allow for further revisions after grading and post the work either on a class website or bulletin board.
  • In addition, ask students to devise a class journal-writing rubric – that is, establish the criteria for good journal writing. They can use this rubric to assess one another's work or their own.
  • As you read students' journals, it is more meaningful for them if they receive personal rather than corrective comments on their thoughts and ideas.
  • Ask for volunteers to read aloud from their journals and have students give feedback on the writer's use of such devices as sensory details and imagery.


  • Assign students to research different kinds of autobiographical writing and to share good examples of published diaries, journals, letters, travel logs, oral histories, interviews, and autobiographies.
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to write dialogue journals in which they carry on written conversations about a common interest or a mutual problem they're trying to solve.
  • Suggest that students keep a specialized journal that focuses on a particular activity, such as participating in basketball, or a learning log, which is a personal learning tool that focuses on their coursework and their thoughts and feelings about what they are learning.

National Council of Teachers of English

  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

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