Tips for Designing Your Own Journal Pages

We have discovered that the journal style and structure prompt a wide variety of responses in students and have varying effectiveness. To create an effective journal, identify your goals and carefully visualize every stage of the student experience. Develop journal elements with the purpose and style that best suit your needs.


Style: Workbook or Open Structure?


Asking open questions elicits creativity and critical thinking in students. It often includes scientific illustration, site observations, and illustrating or restating concepts. Asking workbook-style questions gives students a structure to follow and specific topics on which to focus. It often includes fill in the blanks, activity pages, questions to answer, and data tables.


Remember that some students may excel at journal styles that others have difficulty with; some need more guidance than others. For example, if you ask students to “record observations,” some students may be able to quickly write free-flowing thoughts and sketches while other students won’t know how to begin. On the other hand, if you ask students to “fill in a chart of specific things to investigate while observing,” some students will fill in their answers with much detail while other students may feel daunted by all the answers they have to fill in.


Below are descriptions and illustrations of the types of journals used by the BioSITE program:

Purpose: Content, Reflection, or Evaluation

Style: Workbook or Open Structure




Use to learn or practice new material, record data and observations, and reinforce concepts.


  • Workbook: fill in the blanks, activity pages, questions to answer, data tables.
  • Open: Scientific illustration, site observations, illustrating or restating concepts.



Used to personally engage and reinforce individual connections to places, experiences, and content; to inspire the desire to learn or do more.

  • Workbook: Carefully chosen pre-printed questions elicit thoughtful responses/drawings.
  • Open: Free response or verbal prompts deepen engagement. This has the flexibility to be tailored to unexpected changes, opportunities or needs.



Use to measure the impact of your program/experience, quantify knowledge gained, and capture evidence of evolving attitudes, interests and perceptions.

  • Workbook: Post-test questions to measure knowledge, problem solving designed to demonstrate understanding, quantifiable right/wrong answers.
  • Open: Develop a rubric to gauge levels of engagement, demonstrated types of thinking, and references to key concepts when reviewing journal entries.

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