How to Get Your Students to Enjoy Visual Journaling

Having sketchbooks or visual journals in the art room is a given. The exercise of drawing, journaling, and creating on a regular basis helps our students’ creative muscles flex and gain strength. Ideas become reality as they put pencil to paper.

But how do you get your students excited to sketch or journal? Is it possible to motivate them to work on their own? Assigning projects is a good start, but to create real buy-in, students need to feel like their journals are something they can’t live without!

Here are some ideas for building the love and desire of using sketchbooks and journals every day!

stack of visual journals

Personalize!

Every student likes to feel they are an individual with their own unique style and personae to put out into the world. Support this growth by making space for students to define what makes their best visual journal.

There are lots of ideas for formats, but not everything works for everyone. Give students choices about the form their journal takes. Allow for time to personalize and make the book their own. It’s a bit more work on the front-end for you but can pay off in a journal that gets used rather than one that sits on a shelf.

Options might include:

  • Hardcover journals
  • Spiral bound notebooks
  • Handmade books
  • Smaller softcover journals

Or, how about a digital visual journal?

If students at your school can work with technology, or even have their own iPads or devices, digital options are a great way to keep them engaged and working. One of my favorites is Autodesk Sketchbook on the iPad. It’s fairly easy to use and creates some beautiful images. And it’s free!

photo of app on iPad

I find my students are playing with sketchbook and drawing apps all the time. Meeting them where their interests lie makes sense. It also makes sharing their work easy!


For more ideas about how to get students interested in journaling, don’t miss the Sketchbook Ideas that Really Work and Implementing Sketchnotes PRO Learning Packs! Explore how to use sketchbooks or journals in a variety of ways, discover the benefits of artist challenges, learn how to hook your students through sketchnoting, and much more!


Inspire!

Give prompts not just for art exercises, but for writing and inspiration as well. Devote some time in class to looking through magazines or the Internet for sparks that will help them work. Have students print out these inspiration pieces and put them in their journals. Sometimes students feel like everything in their journal needs to be something they’ve made, but of course, this isn’t true. In fact, having the books serve as idea repositories is part of what being an artist is actually about.

This is also another time using a digital resource might make things a bit easier and get students to stay invested. Just about every art teacher knows how useful Pinterest is in thinking about projects and sharing and tagging ideas. Why not have students “pinning” ideas and work that gets them excited and inspired?

screen shot of Pinterest
image via Pinterest

If you want your students to stay off social media, they can also easily create Google Docs where they can save links and drop images. The idea is to make sure they’re saving their ideas somewhere.

The main goal is to get them to think about how they are going to use this resource for everything. Make it essential. Make it something they want to be using all the time. Having them complete occasional assignments in the journal is great, but building the habit of using their journal to process and record is even better!

Share…or Don’t Share.

As a student works in their journal, it might become a more private and personal space for reflection. Therefore, it’s possible they might not want to share every single piece of work or writing they create. And that’s ok! Build trust with your students, so they become empowered to share what they are comfortable with as they create. Don’t require them to submit or share something for every assignment.

person working in visual journal

On the flip side, you’ll also want to provide opportunities for those students who do want to put things out there! Again, everyone is a bit different, and it’s important to understand and gauge levels of comfort around being vulnerable in sharing something they have made. It might be that a student is more comfortable sharing individually with just you, so build in time and space for individualized sketchbook and journal review as well. Give the students every opportunity to decide when they want to share their work.

The habit of journaling regularly is something we have to build for our students. Try using some of these ideas to build a stronger rapport with students, and who knows? You may add excitement for visual journaling and gain insight into who they are as they work in their journals!

How often do your students use their visual journals?

What assignments and prompts do you use with your visual journals?

Raymond Yang

Ray Yang is a Middle and Upper School Art Teacher and Teaching Artist in Seattle, WA. He is a passionate advocate for social justice and believes the arts can change the world.

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