Using Thinking Journals Outside

14 May 2013 · 1 comment

in Art & Music Outdoors, Literacy Outdoors

This guest post is from a fellow education consultant, Sue Dixon, who runs The Thinking Child consultancy. In this post she gets us thinking outdoors – no box needed! In Sue’s words…

Thinking Journals

A Thinking journal is a simple, blank A5 booklet, but its simplicity provides some powerful ways for children to be able to validate and share (if they wish) their thinking. Thinking, of course, may or may not be subject specific.

I find most children do want to share their thoughts, to have adults and their peers interested in what they had considered possibly irrelevant and/or uninteresting to others.

Thinking journals help children to capture immediate thoughts using words, drawings, diagrams, cartoons, etc.

They can be used later in follow up sessions to:

  • explore separate, individual experiences of the same activity – it is often a surprise to children to realise that they are creatively unique.
  • to validate the fact that having different thoughts and opinions is a good thing and to see where the commonalities are in the group.
  • provide an opportunity for children to listen to each other’s thoughts and for them to be challenged – to listen carefully to others, to consider other possibilities and points of view; something a lot of adults I know could do with learning!

Here are some starter ideas that lend themselves to the use of Thinking Journals.  They can be done in any size of outdoor space – whatever is in your ‘backyard’ will suffice. They have been designed as ‘stand-alone’ activities, simply to get children to see how the outdoors can provide a great place to think, but you will also be able to incorporate and extend them into longer pieces of planning

Designate some ‘sound stations’ in different locations of your grounds.

Choose them according to the different sounds you are likely to hear there. Children have to visit a ‘sound station’, close their eyes and listen carefully. They have to draw or write the top 5 sounds they can hear and assign a word to it that best describes that sound: invented words and similes to be encouraged. Once back together you can compare what everyone’s listening experiences were and collate the bank of interesting ‘sound words’ to use later. You could also produce a ‘sound map’ of the whole area – using GPS technology and Mp3 files if you wish.

Let children choose a ‘close up view’ of insect life somewhere

– lifting a stone (carefully) to observe woodlice, watch ants trooping back and forth on a woodland floor or tree trunk, or place a square grid down on the grass and get a close up view of the insect life. It could also be done near a pond with pond skaters and larvae etc.  Children have to sit as still as possible and with their pencil touching their page (mustn’t lift it off) they observe and plot the patterns of travel that their insects make – for a few minutes. They end up with a continuous flowing mark on their paper that usually has a pattern/rhythm to it. If possible collect a few different ones that become a rich source from which larger pieces of abstract art can be developed later.

The Question Trail.

Learning to ask good questions is a basic thinking skill which needs lots of practice. Mark out some objects/places in the grounds with numbers – some man-made, some natural. Children have to visit each place and think of 3 questions that they would ask about that object/place and write them in their journal.  To extend children’s thinking you could ask that they think of a closed question, a factual question, a question that is a matter of opinion – or a philosophical one that has no answer.  This will provide a rich bank of questions for future philosophy sessions as well as providing valuable practice at asking ‘good ‘ questions.


Thanks Sue! Please do hop on over to Sue’s blog for more ideas around thinking journals and much more!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ilina May 14, 2013 at 19:07

This is exactly how Thinking Maps benefit preschool students who can journal and map ideas with pictures instead of words/sentences. Look, our Model Map is actually from a preschool! http://thinkingmaps.com/blog/model/washington-rose-elementary/

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