Student Journaling During Coronavirus

Last updated May 08, 2020

During the coronavirus pandemic, journals provide students a space for private reflection, which can help them process their thoughts, feelings, and uncertainties during these difficult times. In addition, we are living through an upheaval that will become part of our global history. Students can use journals to document their lives during the coronavirus pandemic for their future selves or future historians. This resource is designed to help both teachers who are setting up student journals for the first time as well as those who already have established practices around journaling in their classrooms.

This tool also contains journal prompts you can use with your students, which we compiled with the help of the educators on Facing History’s English and Language Arts Advisory Board. To skip to the collections of journal prompts, click on the categories below:

  1. Self-Reflection
  2. Reflecting on Media (Books, Art, Film, Shows)
  3. Reflecting on Daily Life During the Coronavirus
  4. Reflecting on Acts of Kindness, Community, and Relationships

First, though, we have four tips for you on using journals with your students.

Tip 1: Decide on Procedures for your Students’ Journals

Teachers choose to structure and evaluate student journals in a variety of ways. You can use the following questions and resources to help students set up journals before the summer break.

Read the resource Journaling in Facing History Classroom to help you consider the following questions:

  • What is your relationship with students' journals?
  • What is appropriate content for journals?
  • How will journals be evaluated?
  • What forms of expression can be included in a journal?
  • How can journals be used to help students build vocabulary?
  • Should journal content be publicly shared? If so, how?

In addition to the questions above, you may want to consider the following questions specific to journaling during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Should your students keep a physical or a digital journal while they are engaged in distance learning? How will the format of their journals affect how they share them with you if you wish to see their writing?
  • How can your students use their journals to document “history in-the-making” during the coronavirus for future generations? (See activity 3 for more guidance.)
  • Should students continue their journals through the summer? If so, how can you help them learn to generate their own journal prompts? (For more guidance, read and adapt Kelly Gallagher’s coronavirus lesson plan.)

Tip 2: Encourage Creativity in Student Journals

Professor and author John Spencer writes, “A journal is like a playground for the mind. It’s a messy sandbox where you get to make and explore.”1 Students can express themselves in their journals through a combination of art, narrative, and poetry. Read the following resources for guidance on how to encourage students to use their journals in creative ways:

Tip 3: Write Alongside Your Students

Educator and editor Rebecca Alber asks, “When we write with our students and share with them our uncertainties about word-choice, a topic, or organization, won't they be much more willing to do the same?”2

Read her article Do You Write with Your Students? and then develop a plan for how you can share your writing with your students.

Tip 4: Help Your Students Understand the Significance of Journaling During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Author George Saunders urged his Syracuse University students in a letter published in The New Yorker to document life during the coronavirus for future generations. He writes:

Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.4

Ask your students to read this quote and the Smithsonian Magazine article What We Can Learn from 1918 Influenza Diaries. Then, ask them to reflect on the following questions:

  • What role can journals play in telling the story of a historical event?
  • What ideas do you have for how you can document this moment of “history in-the-making”?

Journal Prompts

  1. Self-Reflection

    • Describe a place that feels like home. What does the place look like? Why does it feel like home?
    • Explain a childhood game that makes you feel free. What is a memory you have of playing the game? Why does it make you feel free?
    • What do you hope people say about you? Why?
    • Look at Marc Brackett’s Mood Meter. Where would you place yourself on the meter right now? Why?
    • Complete the sentence: “Today I feel . . .”
    • Listen to Tracy K. Smith read and reflect on the poem “Listen” by Barbara Crooker on her podcast The Slowdown. Draw something in your own life that you are grateful for. What music has been motivating you or making you feel better while you are staying home? Create a playlist of three songs. Create a cover image for your playlist, and write a short reflection on why these songs make you feel better.
  2. Reflecting on Media (Books, Art, Film, Shows)

    • What are you reading, watching, or listening to right now that is inspiring you? How does it inspire you?
    • Explore a particular choice made by a character in a text you have read. How does their identity impact their choices?
    • Read the poem “There is no Frigate like a Book” by Emily Dickinson. Look up any words in the poem you don’t know. Pick one line of the poem and illustrate it. What message does this poem have about the power of books and stories? How can reading, watching, or listening to stories allow you to “travel” even while you are staying home more? What is a book or story you've read that has transported you to a new place or time?
    • Choose one of the short videos from the Global Oneness Project to watch. What perspectives does the film explore? What questions does the film raise for you? Take a tour of a museum that is offering online tours. (Here is a list of 12 museums that currently have free online tours.) Choose one of the works of art that you saw and write a short story inspired by it.
    • Choose a book you recently read or a show or film you recently watched. What kinds of challenges do the main characters face? How do they deal with these challenges? What words of advice do you have for them?
    • Choose a book you recently read or a show or film you recently watched. Which character do you most relate to and why? Which character do you least relate to and why?
    • Choose a book you recently read or a show or film you recently watched. Why do you think the author or director chose to tell the story from the perspective they did? What other choices could the author or director have made? How would it have changed the story?
  3. Reflecting on Daily Life During the Coronavirus

    • Describe how your daily routine has changed because of the coronavirus outbreak. How do you feel about the change?
    • Create a six-word memoir that describes your experience during COVID-19. (Here are some examples of six-word memoirs.) Explain the significance of the six-word memoir and how it represents your experience.
    • What are some positive things that have occurred in your life or in the world during this time of physical distancing? What are some negative things that you are experiencing because we are physically distancing from each other?
    • Describe a fear or fears that you are experiencing because of this pandemic.
    • What do you miss the most from your life before COVID-19?
    • Do you think people will be different when this is all over, or will everyone return to their “old normal”?
    • When we return to “normal,” what pre-COVID-19 parts of your life are you going to change?
    • How has this time at home changed you, for better or worse?
    • What have you noticed about yourself during the coronavirus outbreak? What have you noticed about your family?
    • What is a song that describes this pandemic and why?
    • Think of a person you are close to (for example, a family member, friend, teacher, or neighbor). How has your relationship to that person changed since the coronavirus outbreak began? How has it stayed the same?
    • How has distance learning been for you? What are the challenges? What are the benefits? Have you discovered anything about yourself as a learner?
    • The author George Saunders wrote this in a letter to his students:

      Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe [the coronavirus outbreak] ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.3

    • How will you describe this time to future generations? What important aspects of this experience should be remembered and shared? What artifacts can you save to help you remember this time?
    • Write a letter to yourself during the coronavirus pandemic. What do you want your future self to know about this time?
    • What are five things you miss the most during this trying time, and how do you plan to not take them for granted in the future?
    • Search the internet for five happy or positive pieces of news from this week. What are the stories about?
    • If you are working, describe a memorable moment (funny, upsetting, surprising) you have had at work since the coronavirus outbreak began. What happened? How did it make you feel?
    • What is something that you are upset you are going to miss out on because of remote learning? What are some creative ways we can still have those experiences while practicing social distancing?
    • What are some small things you have done, watched, or participated in over the past few weeks that brought you a small burst of joy? Is there a TikTok trend you are obsessed with, did you discover a new app, is there a board game your family plays that you love?
    • Brittany Packnett Cunningham writes, “A global crisis does not erase inequality. It expands it. As we live through this pandemic, we have a responsibility to expose and solve for injustice.”5 What do you think she means? What inequalities or injustices have you observed during the pandemic thus far? What laws would you want politicians to enact that would promote greater equality?
    • Read Pablo Neruda’s poem “Ode to My Socks” (“Oda a los calcetines”). Write your own “ode” to an object in your home. Why did you choose this object?
  4. Reflecting on Acts of Kindness, Community, and Relationships

    • What is a compliment you recently received? How did it make you feel? What is a compliment you would like to give to someone else and why?
    • Who inspires you and why do they inspire you?
    • Write a thank you note to someone who has been there for you. What have they done that has helped you? Why did you find it helpful?
    • There are a lot of rainbows in people’s windows signifying hope and a sense of togetherness. Why do you think this symbol was chosen? How do you think it affects people who see it? If you were to post a message in your window, what would it be and why?
    • In Drew Dudley’s TED Talk Everyday Leadership (6:10), he tells a story about giving a lollipop to a student to show how we all have the power to change other people’s lives through seemingly small acts of kindness. Watch the TED Talk or read the transcript of the talk. Describe a “lollipop moment” you have had. How did that moment impact you? What can you do to create lollipop moments for other people? What are some ways you have seen other people reach out and help others during quarantine? Describe what you have seen and why you admire these efforts. Explain how you could help others in a similar fashion.
    • Describe the ways you are seeing and keeping in touch with your friends and families during this pandemic.
    • How has this pandemic affected your family? How has this pandemic affected your community?
    • Discuss a time when your individual values have conflicted with the values of a group or community that you are a part of. How did you address this challenge and what impacted the decision you made? Did you speak up or remain silent? For example, you could think of a time when you have disagreed with the decision of your school, parents, or peer group.
    • Read the poem “Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye. In the poem, she writes: “And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This / is the world I want to live in.” What is the world you want to live in? What are small things we can do to help achieve that world?
    • Read the poem “Remember” by Joy Harjo. What connections does the poem describe? How are we connected to other people and places—past and present, near and far?
    • Listen to Tracy K. Smith read and reflect on the poem “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Laméris on her podcast The Slowdown. Think about a recent time someone shared a “small kindness” with you. How did it make you feel? What are some ways you can share small kindnesses with other people during this time?


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