Activity: Journaling

"An environmental journal is one of the best ways to learn issues and keep up with current topics."

­ Darren Westfall

"It helps to write down your point of view to form where you stand on an issue."

­ Mixalis Petikas

"I learned about important topics that should be taught to everyone."

­ T.J. Willis

Journal writing is an effective way for students:

  • To reflect on information they are learning
  • To express their thoughts and feelings on an issue
  • To develop and enhance their writing skills.

The purpose of this lesson is to offer ways to proceed from personal journal writing to critical journal writing as students examine their present or future place in society.

Traditional journal entries encompass questions such as: "What do you know about the topic?" and "What do you think or feel about the topic?" Critical journal writing can require the student to proceed from thoughts or feelings on an issue to formulating a plan of action. An appropriate question to ask would be, "What can you do about the topic?" Students will still be able to write about their feelings and experiences, but their expression will be thoughtful and focused.

Examples of questions for critical journal entries include:

  • How do the choices I make, good and bad, affect our water quality?

  • How can I improve the choices I make concerning my use of our precious water resources?

  • How does my personal use of water affect water quality in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin?

  • If I could swim or boat along the shores of waterways in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, what kinds of pollution would I find?

  • How do those pollutants affect living organisms in the Basin?

You are a dairy cow in a herd of 300. The amount of waste generated by the herd and entering a nearby stream distresses you. As a representative of the herd, what would YOU say to the dairy farmer?

You work at Bun 'n' Burger, a local fast food restaurant. You found out that the grease trap is being emptied by a company that dumps the grease into the LaBranche wetlands bordering Lake Pontchartrain. What would you do?

You are a tomato plant on a large farm in a rural parish. You're worried that the pesticides and fertilizers running off the land will cause fish kills in a nearby waterway. Here comes the farmer again, ready to spray. You tell him, "STOP!_____________" (Finish the story.)

A traditional journal entry, once written, can be a springboard for critical journal writing. Have students take an entry, expand upon it, analyze it, and use it as a basis for a formal essay.

Some strategies for this type of journal entry/essay combination include:

  • Developing one's perspective; formulating/exploring beliefs, theories, arguments

  • Assessing consequences of actions

  • Proposing solutions, citing similarities and differences in thoughts or feelings

  • Analyzing actions or examining policies

This can even be accomplished in small groups, with some students responsible for writing the essay and other students responsible for making a class presentation.

Another example of a critical journal entry is to have students listen to or read a selected passage, quote, or poem, then react or comment in a journal entry. For example, try this poem on water quality:

The glass of water you're about to drink
Deserves a second thought, I think
For Avogadro, oceans and those you follow
Are all involved in every swallow.
The molecules of water in a single glass
In number, at least five times, outclass
The glasses of water in stream and sea,
Or wherever else that water can be.
The water in you is between and betwixt,
And having traversed is thoroughly mixed.
So someone quenching a future thirst
Could easily drink what you drank first!
The water you are about to taste
No doubt represents a bit of waste
From prehistoric beast or bird
A notion you may find absurd.
The fountain spraying in the park
Could well spout bits of Joan of Arc, or Adam,
Eve, and all their kin;
You'd be surprised where your drink has been!
Just think! The water you cannot retain
Will some day hence return as rain,
Or be held as the purest dew.
Though long ago it passed through you!"

--- Verne N. Rockcastle

Write a critical journal entry on the poem prompted by such questions:

  1. What do you think or feel about the poetry selection?

  2. Why do you feel that way?

  3. What is the author trying to tell you about water quality?

  4. Why do we have a responsibility to not waste or pollute water resources?

  5. You are a molecule of water who has spent the last 10,000 years making your way through the water cycle. Trace your family tree. Where does your genealogical search take you?

  6. Write the dialogue you have with three other water drops, discussing your travels through space and time.

  7. Write an essay based on your responses, or write a poem of your own!

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