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Going Back in Time Using a Daily Living Journal

by Kathleen A. Hunter
 | Oct 03, 2013

Technology is everywhere in literacy. Sometimes, a child’s first exposure to reading is on an e-reader. It used to be we would learn how to write and form letters using pencils and paper first printing then cursive. Finally in high school, we would learn keyboarding skills.

Going Back in Time Using a Daily Living Journal on the Engage blogBut today, that path has shortened considerably. Don’t get me wrong; I value technology in the classroom. I’ve had some major breakthroughs with my students because they were able to express themselves more readily using a keyboard and computer screen rather than traditional pencil and paper. But, sometimes, it’s refreshing for us as teachers to take a step, or two, back to a time when all writing was done using a goldenrod colored stick labeled No. 2 and sheets of wide-ruled notebook paper.

Using a daily living journal in your classroom will take your students back to a similar time when kids wrote in a journal to document their day-to-day experiences. I also add one more layer to the overall experience by making your own journals. The steps are few, the materials are inexpensive, and the experience rich and rewarding.

The first time I used the daily living journals was with my fourth grade class for social studies. We were learning about the pioneers and their journey across the Badlands to the great West where they had hopes of a better life. We began by learning the basics of pioneer life: noting the similarities (of which there were few) and the differences (of which there were many).

Soon my students were ready to immerse themselves into pioneer life and document their daily routines, adventures, family life, and hardships along the way. Each student had their own journal to write in throughout the day. Because the students actively participated in making their journals, they valued them all the more and took pride in caring for them.

Some students wanted to share what they had written and of course I let them. However, one of my objectives with the lesson was to have a comfortable medium for students to write about their “pioneer life” and learning about our country’s history. I would “spot check” for participation throughout the lesson but I didn’t make it mandatory that they read their journals to the class or that I read them in their entirety.

At the end of our unit, I collected their journals to put in their portfolios for student-teacher conferences, at which time they would then take them home. The students enjoyed reading what they had written so many weeks before and reminiscing about what they had learned.

For me, I had a classroom of engaged students having fun while learning, a project to assess their writing skills and their understanding of the social studies unit as well as an art grade. And, if you are inclined to take it another step further, you can incorporate math into the lesson, such as when calculating the amount of fabric for each journal. Since this would make a great assignment for Old Farmer’s Day, traditionally observed on October 12, you could also expand the project to include science, such as plant and animal biology.

As some of you know from my previous Teaching Tips, social studies was never a fun subject for me as a kid. As a teacher I vowed to never have a dull lesson. This was the result of that desire. I hope you and your students will agree!

Daily Living Journal Supplies

Fake suede-like fabric. I found a polyester blend on the sale table at my local fabric store. Each individual journal uses a piece of fabric that is 12” x 9”so calculate your yardage based on the number of students you have. Most fabrics are 45” wide but you might get lucky and find one that is 54” or even 60” wide. Be sure to ask about a teacher discount at the fabric store. I was lucky to get 10% off!

With the extra fabric, cut narrow strips of fabric, approximately 24” long.

Going Back in Time Using a Daily Living Journal on the Engage blogGlue sticks. Glue sticks are a better choice than the liquid glue but if all you have is the liquid kind that is fine. Just be sure to use a thin layer so the paper journals do not warp.

Journals. I have included a template for the journals. All you need to do is print two copies of the sheets with lines then put those in the copy machine and make double-sided sets—one set per student with 10 pages in each. Then print enough copies of the cover sheet for each student.

Add the cover sheet to each journal set. Then add one sheet of blank paper to the set and fold the entire journal in half. If you have a large stapler you can stable the journals along the spine. Or, you can punch holes and use string to “bind” the journals.

Assembly of Journals

Each student will get one rectangle of fabric and one assembled journal. Ask each student to glue the journal to the wrong side of the fabric.  

Using a hole punch, make a hole in the edge of the journal (front and back).

Take one of the strips of fabric and tie a knot through the hole in the front. Now, when you close the journal, the strip wraps around the journal. You can loop through the hole on the back side and loosely tie a knot.

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at

© 2013 Kathleen Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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