Try Math Journals in Your Classroom

This course for K-6 educators explores the power of student reflective journals in building students’ mathematical knowledge and practices.


5-30 hours

A journal for each student in your classroom.
Module 2 | Getting Started – Launching Journals

2.1 - Module Goals

In this module, you will:

  • Examine the features and purposes of mathematics journals in more depth
  • Make a plan to launch math journals in your classroom

2.2 - Read “Getting Started”

To help you get started with journals, we’ve created two Getting Started documents: one for grades K & 1 (where students are just beginning to write and read), and one for grades 2-5. Read the document for your grade level and note down what you find interesting. If you are a K-1 teacher, you may also find it useful to review briefly the upper grades document, to know where reflective journals are expected to progress over time. When you have finished reading, take a few minutes to reflect on:

  • What benefits you want your students to experience by using reflective mathematics journals
  • Anything you found especially interesting or surprising

(For teams, follow individual writing with discussion.)

2.3 - Develop a Launch Plan

Three questions to consider as you plan to launch journals are:

How Will You Introduce Journals?

We recommend that you start (for Grades 2 and above) by showing students the journal samples from the Textbook Journal Examples for their grade level (see Module 1) and asking students what they notice and find interesting. Students are likely to enjoy figuring out what other students have learned.

We also recommend viewing the 3 brief videos of students talking about their journals and choose one or more to share with your students:

Have your class chat about what the students in the video said. How did journals help these students?

Journals are best suited to lessons in which students build new knowledge, such as problem-solving lessons (see our Teaching Through Problem-solving section for more details). As you explore journals, you may want to use them initially just for lessons where new knowledge is built, such as problem-solving lessons. Teachers often find that students enjoy problem-solving lessons and ask for more, leading to increased use of Teaching Through Problem-solving and mathematics journals over time.

How Will You Get Students Excited about Using Their Journals?

Many students will enjoy starting a journal where they can record and revisit their ideas and look back on what they have learned.  Giving students time to personalize the journal cover may deepen their sense of ownership, and so may hearing stories about journals that you or others have found valuable.

Watch the two videos below to hear how a Kindergarten teacher and a 4th/5th grade teacher introduce math journals to their students.

What Journal Elements Will You Start With?

Ultimately, all elements of the journal are interrelated and important. Students’ reflections make the most sense when we can also see the problem, their solution strategy, and the other elements of the journal. However, if your students are young or your time is limited, you can start with some journal elements first.  You may want to pass out a copy of the problem for students to paste in their journals, and to have students reflect verbally (rather than in writing) at first. At minimum, we suggest that your initial plan for launching journals includes:

  • Looking at student journal entries each time they make them and leaving comments–even if it is simply a happy-face with your initials
  • Using student journal entries from the prior lesson to begin the next math lesson, so that students see the power of their ideas to shape the next mathematics learning

We recommend that you do not grade journals. Correcting poorly-written numerals is important feedback, along with circling mistakes and questioning or correcting them. However, grading journals is likely to undermine students’ willingness to write authentically about their challenges and confusions. Many teachers are used to providing extensive individual feedback in language arts journals; for reflective mathematics journals, feedback to students can be woven into instruction itself, as students use their journals to present their work to the class, and as teachers select journals to begin the next day’s lesson. 

2.4 - Review Your Plan

If working individually, take a few minutes to consider challenges that you may encounter when you introduce math journals. What strategies might you use to address these challenges?

If working with colleagues, share your journal launch plans with each other, along with any challenges you anticipate. Note down any ideas from colleagues that you might find useful in your classroom.

2.5 - Pre-Work for Module 3

  • Introduce journals in your class and use them for at least 4 lessons
  • Bring your whole class set of student journals to the next session
  • Keep notes on the classroom context of  introducing journals–for example, how you introduced them, student reactions, lesson contexts, student journal reflections shared at the beginning of the next lesson (if any), particular challenges or successes