math journals – meet the Common Core


Using math journals gives students opportunities to write about their thinking. We started our journey last year with the adoption of the Common Core Standards and implemented math journaling as a way for students to work through multi-step math work independently (or attempt to anyhow) and for them to explore expressing their thinking in written form using pictures, numbers and sometimes words. I hope to outline some of my favorite features using some snapshots of student work.

Math Journals

math journals - meet the Common Core

We like to use these composition notebooks as our way to keep it all organized. They sure don’t end up “pretty” by the end of the year… but they are valuable for students to see their growth and for me to remember where we came from.

These have replaced all typical worksheets in my classroom. [Above] Students were working on describing shapes by sorting them by the number of vertices. [Below] You’ll notice that we use a bookmark (green band) to help keep track of our work throughout the year.

math journals - meet the Common Core

[Above] As teachers, we broke away from viewing addition and subtraction and using word problems as a “unit” that didn’t come until spring… We are exploring various ways to make numbers and already working on missing addends early on. Early exposure and lots of practice helps us grow over the year.

Show Growth

We usually also give challenging work in order to show growth and repeat a similar prompt multiple times or later in the year. [Above] You’ll notice this student was using an equation since they had background knowledge from an older sibling – not typical for November, but I wouldn’t have been able to learn this on the typical worksheet I was previously using. math journals - meet the Common Core

Offering choice is a feature that I appreciate about using journals. Allowing students space and opportunity to organize their thinking as it makes sense to them is important. Now, do all students complete every journal successfully? Um, the answer is a big no. In fact struggling students do struggle. Following directions, completing multi-steps and practicing the math concept all at the same time does make this more difficult in general. But then again, you’re not coming to school to do easy. You’re here to learn.

math journals - meet the Common Core

[Above] Here is an example of work that we’ve all seen. Generally you’ve got someone who didn’t follow directions and totally went off base. I generally write notes on work like this before the student reattempts or attempts with more teacher guidance. Previously we were doing worksheets in class and they were fixing them all with me before they went home. Parents weren’t seeing the errors and misconceptions. Now, I have a documentation tool and a communication tool by using this format. I also “grade” these by writing each student simple feedback before returning them.

math journals - meet the Common Core

Sometimes (many times) we integrate the use of cards, dice or dominoes to make the journal entries feel fun, interactive and make each unique. [Above / Below] Growth from the teddy bears prompt back in November shows that often they begin to organize their work into lines or groupings.

math journals - meet the Common Core


Differentiating student work has been a big change for us. [Above] I can alter a prompt to match a group’s needs as seen using the 3 stars note. [Below] I also have the flexibility to create open ended opportunities for students to show what they know..

math journals - meet the Common Core

Another way to change it up for student needs is to change the materials available. [Below] This student is working on decomposing numbers 20+ into groups of tens and ones. Their group was very comfortable with numbers to 100, working above our grade level standards. Other groups had cards that focused on 11-19, which was directly aligned with our standards.

math journals - meet the Common Core


To echo, some of my favorite features of using math journals:

  • hit all standards that need repetition
  • documentation
  • communication
  • student feedback
  • open-ended
  • can involve materials to make “interactive”
  • better pinpoint misconceptions/errors
  • shows growth (built in assessment tool if needed)
  • multi-step

And my favorite that is accompanied by our share time directly following our guided math time – the opportunity for students to show their thinking, organization, and understanding.

Do you have any thoughts about using journals? Love them? Hate them? Want to try them but not sure how to start – do tell! If you like what I do here on KindergartenWorks, then be sure to subscribe today. I look forward to sharing ideas with you weekly.

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