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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  • MDaniel

    I need some clarification. I do math journals but have always done them whole group. Well I explain them in whole group, then students complete the journal independently, finally we share our findings with partners or back in whole group. My question is how do you explain and give directions for the journal without wasting your precious time with the students in the teacher zone?

    • Leslie @KindergartenWorks

      Hi M,
      We begin our math time usually with me explaining the journal in full detail (day 1 of the rotation) or reviewing (on day 2). Then we split up into groups and I’m able to stick with my teacher zone. I’ve also done it during a morning activity with just the students going there that day when the rest of the class is working on something completely different and independent. Both ways have worked for me, but we share at the end too and students also see the work of others during that time.
      – Leslie

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  • Tasha Grant

    Do the students at this zone work on the journals the entire time you are meeting with a group? If they finish before it is time to change to the next zone, what do they do?

    • Leslie @KindergartenWorks

      Hi Tasha,
      Students will work on journals the whole time. I try to model (or modify for specific groups) how they can turn it into an open-ended or multiple solution entry so that way they can continue to work. I also invite students who are faster finishers to make more thorough products and include writing of words to share their thinking.
      – Leslie

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  • Paula Gehring

    I have used Math Journals for 4 years now with Kinder. I stumbled over some prompts and have never looked back. At the beginning of the year I will teach the kids how I want it set up and they do it with me in small groups 3-5 days until I am sure they have it. For 3 years they did it as part of morning work. (They come in at staggered times so the early birds could help the later arrivals.) Last year I got a new para at her request she became that station during Math most days. At the beginning of the month I gave the promps that had to be done as well as additional ones and she adapted as needed. Since the prompts were story problems we rocked Math when we officially got to those standards. My stugglers could draw and orally explain their thinking to her and the group. There was alot of kid teaching with support. My other kids tended to solve the initial problem and then go into what if and create their own again kids teaching kids. My AP came in to do observation 1 day. She never made it to my table she sat with the journal group and joined in. As i pointed out because I had para support my kids were getting a double dose of small group Math.

    • Leslie @KindergartenWorks

      Great beginning tips! Yeah, they do need a lot of support at the beginning. Neat to hear how you’ve done it. Thanks Paula.
      – Leslie

  • Carol Markgraf

    Leslie, I too stumbled upon your work just last week! Love, love, love! After attending a workshop at a conference last year I was ready for a change to how I taught math. This is just what I was looking for! I have used journals for a few years but never felt real connected to the lesson–we too use Saxon. I’m hoping to use your ideas this year and will purchase the first two quarters of prompts. I’m wondering if the quarter 3 & 4 prompts are in the works? Thanks so sharing your work and the virtual encouragement!

    • Leslie @KindergartenWorks

      Hi Carol, thanks for sharing! Can you send me a personal message on fb or an email – leslie(at) and I can get you a copy of 3 & 4. They are completed but they haven’t been spiffed up for any rightful spot in my shop just yet {wink}.
      – Leslie