Using Journals in Your Teaching
Last week my husband and I were grocery shopping and we were in the meat department when I heard a young women’s voice say, “Sister Foster?” I turned to find one of the young women I used to teach in seminary who is now waiting to leave on her mission. She met my husband and my sweet Hannah and I met her mother.
After a few minutes she said, “I just wanted to thank you for everything you did for me. I have been so nervous about leaving on my mission and the other day I came across my seminary journal from your class and I thought, ‘I can take this with me!’”
That isn’t the first time that has happened. And in fact, that is why I was really diligent in their journals. “Someday”, I would say, “you will be really glad you have this.”
Today, I wanted to give some tips for how to get the kids to write in their journals in class. These are tried-and-true things I figured out over 13 years of teaching seminary.
One thing I know is that you can’t just get journals and expect the students to write in them. You will end up with a stack of journals with the first 5 pages filled in at the end of the year. It takes careful effort and planning from the teacher. But… the kids will thank you for it. They will value the record they have, and they will learn more in the process.
So here are six tips on using journals in the classroom:
1- You must have a journal yourself
This is the key to success for journals in the classroom. And here is why:
- You will know how much time to give them.
- You will know what journal assignments were most meaningful to you and will become better and better at what works best.
- If you plan a journal activity during your lesson prep and fill in your journal during that time (so BEFORE class) then you can show them what your journal entry looks like and they will understand the expectation more clearly. For example: “Today we are going to write “Satan’s Tactics” in the middle of the page, and as you study 2 Nephi 28, write down all of the tactics you find.” And then show them what yours looks like and they will get an idea of how many you found, and that will be their goal too. You will also have a good idea of how much time they will need.
2- Give them ample time
I think a common error in teaching is to rush through a quiet activity such as searching or writing. The expectation that the youth will develop is that they don’t get enough time, and may not take that time as seriously.
Also, teach them to value this time. Teach them that you believe that they can gain great insights during this time – many you haven’t thought of. Teach them that the Spirit can and will teach them. Teach them that they can receive great insights that the whole class can benefit from. Day after day, week after week, you will be slowly teaching them a very valuable principle that will bless the rest of their lives.
3- Teach them that they CAN write
Just like any skill, learning to ponder and record is something that we can get better and better at. If they are nervous or don’t trust themselves yet, you can be their cheerleader.
Also, teach them that they are “recording” not just writing. Make sure to express that these aren’t writing assignments like they are given at school. They are recording their thoughts, questions, insights, inspirations, etc. Use quotes like these to help re-align their feelings:
Elder Richard G. Scott
“We often leave the most precious personal direction of the Spirit unheard because we do not record and respond to the first promptings that come to us when the Lord chooses to direct us.” (Ensign, August 1998, p.11)
President Spencer W. Kimball
“Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity.” (Teachings, p.35)
Elder Gene R. Cook
“I’ve found, as I’m sure you have, that when you’re trying to learn from the Lord and you feel an impression from the Spirit…Its important to make a note so it will not be forgotten. The more you not only hear but abide by what you’ve been told, the more the Lord will give to you. It will come more and more rapidly and you will begin to hear and feel those impressions of the Spirit more quickly than you have previously done.” (Address to Religious Educators, 1 September 1989)
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
“The prompting that goes unresponded to may not be repeated. Writing down what we have been prompted with is vital. A special thought can be lost later in the day through the rough and tumble of life. God should not, and may not, choose to repeat the prompting if we assign what is given such a low priority as to put it aside.” (Press Forward, p.122)
4- Have a vast variety of meaningful journal activities
Try to use their journals in a different way every day. This way they will stay fresh and exciting throughout the year, and each page will be exciting.
Here are some ideas
- Pick 2 of these 5 questions on the board to write about
- Read through 1 Nephi 15 and write down all of the questions you can possibly think of
- Pick your favorite phrase in this chapter and then write 2 to 3 paragraphs about what that phrase means to you.
- After you read this chapter finish this phrase in your journal: “Nephi, thank you for teaching me about…”
- Draw a picture of Nephi in the middle of your page. Write your favorite phrases from him all around his picture.
- Read this chapter and decide a title for it that expresses the teachings that stood out to you. Write that on your page and find 4 other scriptures anywhere in the Bible or Book of Mormon that build on your title.
- Read this chapter and look up all of the words you don’t understand or want more insight into. Write the definitions in your journal.
5- Write. Then discuss.
Since you have given them a chance to think about it, and a chance for the Spirit to teach them, then they will have the confidence and desire to share. This could be groundbreaking to the quality of your discussions as well as include those who don’t usually share.
6- Don’t fill folders. Fill journals.
Whenever you have a handout, try and fit into their journals. So if you are having them read a talk, shrink it down to the size of their journals and have them tape it in. Then everything is journal focused, and as their journals get more and more filled in, they will value them more as well.
Here is a post that shows you how to reformat a talk into a pamphlet form.
So there are a few tips that I hope will help some of you.
I had good years and not-so-good years being a journal teacher – and there is no comparison with what was better for my classroom.
Many of you know that I have put together journals (you can see them here) that include everything I wish I would have had in one place, but if those are out of your budget, pick up cheap notebooks – your students will thank you.