Creative Journaling with Blank Notebooks

Superior test scores do not result in more creative entrepreneurs. On the contrary, it may hamper the development of entrepreneurial and creative activities.

– Yong Zhao, World Class Learners (p 115)

This year I elected to use some grant money to purchase journals for each student in the building. I want to give my classrooms the tools to help students be reflective learners in all content areas. While I hemmed and hawed over which type to buy, I came across this short video titled “When There is a Correct Answer”:

After watching this video, I realized that I was attempting to control the students’ learning. I was worrying about whether the lines were far enough apart for students, when I should have been wondering if lines were even necessary.

With that, I bought two copies of the Moleskine Volant Notebooks with plain paper. My son and I would be the guinea pigs. Our purpose was to see if the lack of lines would improve our notes and reflections. As the video stated, “What if there were no right answers?”

Here is a sample from my journal. I took notes while reading Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson. A requirement of myself was to add a visual component to each note.

Evernote Snapshot 20130729 083007

Although I couldn’t say for sure, I believe I remembered more from this book than from other resources I have taken notes on.

Here are two samples from my son. As you can see, he was into Chima and spooky stories at that time.

Evernote Snapshot 20130729 082638

Evernote Snapshot 20130729 082650

Permission was given by the author to reprint his work.

This mini action research project convinced me to go with blank paged notebooks. The possibilities are limitless when we remove the barriers to creative thinking. I could see some concern being expressed over the kids not having lines to help keep their writing in place. However, as a friend of the family and teacher stated, “Kids who need lines will make their own lines”. Hopefully the kids won’t spend their whole reflection time making the lines!

How do you see these blank journals being used in school? What discipline areas could really benefit from some time to reflect? Please share your ideas on this (blank) wall.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

4 thoughts on “Creative Journaling with Blank Notebooks”

  1. I just love the idea of no lines in the journal. This fits in perfectly with my teaching philosophy. My students math journals have blank spaces, lines, and grids so they can use which works best. I also refuse to “check” them. They have to compare their findings with the other mathematicians in the room. The blank canvass for developing ideas is also something I love. I just painted spaces in my room with chalk board paint to allow for large collaborative brainstorming and problem solving. Now I have one more great idea. Thanks Matt!


  2. I think I’m going to steal the idea in the video. First, I’ll put a triangle on the first page of each journal. Then I will hand them out instructing them to complete the drawing. We will share and have a discussion about “thinking outside of the box” in general and with these journals. The journals will be a reflection tool, but I will try to let the kids lead in how this will look while encouraging each of them to do what is right for them.


    1. Renee, you have given ownership of these journals to the students while keeping their work focused on what’s important. I hope you share how the kids respond as it sounds like interesting work.

      Will you do any other guided entries with your students?


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