Zoomed in photo of student writing.
Mini-Lesson
Current Event

Student Journaling During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Journals provide students with space to process their thoughts, feelings, and uncertainties during this difficult time. Use the tips and writing prompts in this resource to help your students establish a practice of journaling.

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At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, we have lived through an upheaval that has changed each of our lives and will become part of our global history. Journaling can help students reflect on and process the loss, uncertainty, and changes that they have experienced during these difficult times. Students can also use journaling to document, for their future selves or future historians, how their lives were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This resource is designed to help both teachers who are setting up student journals for the first time as well as those who have already established practices around journaling in their classrooms.

This resource also contains journal prompts you can use with your students, which we compiled with the help of educators on Facing History’s English and Language Arts Advisory Board. 

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

  • 4 activities 
  • Student-facing slides 
  • Recommended articles and videos for exploring this topic

Preparing to Teach

A Note To Teachers

Before teaching this mini-lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Teachers choose to structure and evaluate student journals in a variety of ways. You can use the following questions and resources to help get started.

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? 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” of the coronavirus pandemic for future generations? (See activity 3 for more guidance.)

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:

  1. Notebook Work, from English teacher and author Penny Kittle’s blog
  2. 12 Ideas for Writing Through the Pandemic With The New York Times, from the New York Times’ The Learning Network 2
  3. How Student Journals Can Spark Curiosity and Inspire Creativity in the Classroom, from professor and author John Spencer’s blog
  • 1John Spencer, “How Student Journals Can Spark Curiosity and Inspire Creativity in the Classroom,” John Spencer blog, November 5, 2019.
  • 2The New York Times is offering free digital subscriptions to high school students and teachers through September 2021. Without a subscription, you have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

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?” 1 Writing along with your students also allows you to model the practice of using writing to reflect on and process one’s experiences and to make sense of the world around us.

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

  • 1Rebecca Alber, “Do You Write with Your Students,” Edutopia, February 6, 2012.

​​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. 1 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. 2

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 the way your life changed because of the coronavirus pandemic?
  • 1Without a subscription to the New Yorker, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.
  • 2George Saundes, “A Letter to My Students As We Face the Pandemic,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2019.

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Activities

Journal Prompts

  • Describe a place that feels like home. What does the place look like? Why does it feel like home?
  • Take a moment to be still and focus. What sounds do you hear? What do you notice around you? What sensations do you feel? After you reflect, write down what you experienced.
  • What goals and actions do you share with others that give you courage, strength, and hope?
  • 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 motivates you or makes you feel better when you experience difficult times? 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.
  • 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? 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 virtual tour of a museum or look at their online collection. (Here is a list of 12 museums that currently have 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?
  • The coronavirus pandemic deeply impacted schools and the way that students learn. Choose a person or a group of people (such as parents, the principal, or teachers) and write an open letter that describes how you have experienced school since the beginning of the pandemic and one recommendation for what your school can do to improve students’ wellbeing or learning.
  • Describe how your daily routine changed throughout the course of the pandemic. How do you feel about these changes?
  • 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 since the beginning of the pandemic? What are some negative things that you have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic?
  • Do you think your life has returned to "normal" since the pandemic? Why or why not?
  • What did you learn about yourself during the pandemic? What did you learn about your loved ones?
  • What is a song that describes your life right now and why?
  • Think of a person you are close to (for example, a family member, friend, teacher, or neighbor). How has your relationship with that person changed since the coronavirus outbreak began? How has it stayed the same?
  • How does learning remotely compare to learning in person? What are the benefits of each? What are the challenges of each?
  • 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. 1

  • How will you describe the pandemic to future generations? What important aspects of your experience during the pandemic should be remembered and shared? What artifacts can you save to help you remember this time?
  • 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?
  • Choose one important milestone you've had since the beginning of the pandemic (such as a birthday, starting a new school, or a funeral). How was the milestone different because of the pandemic? How was the milestone meaningful or important to you?
  • What are some things you have done, watched, or participated in over the past few weeks that brought you joy?
  • 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.” 2 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?
  • 1George Saundes, “A Letter to My Students As We Face the Pandemic,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2019.
  • 2Brittany Packnett Cunningham, “The Coronavirus Doesn’t Have a Race Problem—America’s Systems Do,” Cosmopolitan, April 10, 2020.
  • 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?
  • Write an apology note to someone who is currently in your life or who used to be in your life.
  • Write a note of encouragement to someone in your life who you think could use a pick me up.
  • 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 since the pandemic began? Describe what you have seen and why you admire these efforts. Explain how you could help others in a similar fashion.
  • How has the pandemic affected your family? How has it 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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Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.
Notebook Work
Penny Kittle
Mood Meter
Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
Listen
The Slowdown
Global Oneness Project
Global Oneness Project
Six Word Memoirs
Six Word Memoirs
Gate A-4
Poets.org
Remember
Poets.org
Small Kindnesses
The Slowdown

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Facing History and Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

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