Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Google Classroom: Using a Writing Journal

Google Classroom: Using a Writing Journal

Writing Journals Google Classroom

I received a tweet from a teacher wanting to have his students create writing journals and then submit them through Classroom. Here is a suggestion for how to create the writing journals.
Writing Journal Google Classroom request tweet

Create a template in Google Docs. Add a table of contents to the doc. The blue hyperlinks in the table of contents can be copied and submitted to Google Classroom. When you click on these submitted links you are jumped to the spot in the Google document that contains that journal entry. This allows students to use the same Google Doc all year for their journal but still submit individual journal entries.

Google Doc Template

In Google Drive create a template for the students to use as their Writing Journal. I recommend that the first thing you do is to press enter several times. I suggest perhaps 20 times. Even for myself when I work on a document I do this trick. It provides room to do work in multiple sections.

At the top of the document create a title. In the toolbar where it says “Normal text,” change this to “Title.”
Create a title

Title the writing journal something like “Writing Journal for: ” giving the student room to type their name in the title.
Writing Journal Title

Table of Contents

Below the title, you will want to insert a Table of Contents. Use the Insert menu and choose the last option “Table of contents.” This creates a table of contents at the top of the doc that is automatically populated.
Table of Contents

Choose from the most used tags

Heading 1

It is really important to teach students about using headings. Not only does the use of headings allow the table of contents to be automatically populated, but this is a requirement for accessibility for students with disabilities.

Type something like “Journal Entry #1” below the table of contents. With your cursor on the same line as the “Journal Entry #1,” chance the text from “Normal text” to “Heading 1” in the toolbar.
Choose heading one

Refresh Table of Contents

The table of contents does not refresh automatically. (Note: there is a table of contents Add-On you may wish to use). You must click on the table of contents and click on the refresh icon.
Refresh table of contents icon

The headings in the document that as set as Heading 1 in the toolbar will automatically appear in the table of contents. Headings 2, 3, 4 will be indented in the table of contents to represent the sub levels. If you change the text of any of the headings, you will need to refresh the table of contents.
Google Docs Table of Contents

Place Headers

In your template, you can write out the journal entry headers yourself or teach the students how to do this. I am in favor of doing the first 2 or 3 and then teaching students to create them themselves. This helps them to get in the habit of using headers. This increases their digital literacy skills and also makes their documents more accessible to students with disabilities. A good practice for students to do when making documents.

Press enter a few times after the “Journal Entry #1” header. Type “Journal Entry #2.” From the toolbar, also make this a level 1 header. Repeat by pressing enter a few times between “Journal Entry” titles to give students room to write their journal entries.

Refresh Table of Contents

After creating your “Journal Entry” headers, do not forget to refresh the table of contents.
Refreshed table of contents.

Sample Document

Click Here to obtain a copy of a sample document.

Google Classroom

In Google Classroom, attach the template so that each student receives a copy. The student name will automatically be appended to the end of the document title which is nice.

Sample Directions

[expand title=”Click Here for sample text for the assignment description.”]

#016 Writing Journal
Please click on the OPEN button.
Open the attached writing journal by clicking on the document title.
Add your name at the top of the writing journal.
This is an ongoing assignment. You will continue to come back to assignment #016 to continue working on your Writing Journal. You can also find your writing journal in your Classroom folder in Google Drive.

In Google Classroom each week I will post a new Writing Journal topic. You will write your journal entry and in order to turn in, you will link to the journal entry in the weekly Classroom assignment.


Journal Assignment

Each time a student is expected to add to their journal create a new assignment in Google Classroom. Direct students to locate their journal either in Google Classroom or Google Drive. Students will need to add the “Journal Entry” header and update the table of contents.
Linking to entries

Students will also need to click on the new journal entry listing in the table of contents and right click on the blue hyperlinked text that appears below the “Journal Entry” in the table of contents. Students then choose “Copy Link Address” from the right click menu. At least the first time, provide directions to the students on how to create and link to the journal entry header.
Copy Link Address


Sample Directions

In classroom direct students to hypelink to table of contents

[expand title=”Click Here for sample text for the assignment description.”]

#031 Journal Entry #4
Locate your #016 Writing Journal. You can find this in assignment #016 here in Google Classroom or go to Google Drive, open your Classroom folder and find your journal there.

You will need to create a new journal entry. Below entry #3 press enter a couple of times. Type “Journal Entry #4.” Select the text and change the “Journal Entry #4” from “Normal text” to “Header 1.” Click on the table of contents and click on the refresh icon to update the table of contents.

Respond to the prompt “How is the main character of the book similar to the school librarian” for Journal Entry #4.

In the table of contents, click one time on the blue linked text that says “Journal Entry #4.” RIGHT CLICK on the hyperlink that appears below the words “Journal Entry #4.” Choose “Copy link address” from the right click opens.

In Google Classroom, click on the OPEN button. Click on ADD and choose the link icon. Paste (Control V) the link to the Journal Entry #4 and choose the blue Turn In button.

See the attached GIF to view how to do this process.


Student Submission

In Google Classroom students will click on the OPEN button to submit their journal entry.  They will click on the “Add” button and choose the chain link icon.
Add hyperlink

Students will use Control V to paste the link to the journal entry.
Add link to assignment

Students will then click on the blue “Turn In” button.
Blue Turn In


Note that Google Classroom requires that a student owns a document in order to submit it. When a students submits the journal the ownership switches from student to teacher. The student can no longer edit the document and they can not resubmit it for further entries. Make sure you return the journal to students as soon as possible after students submit. Returning student work returns ownership and editing priviledges.

Short URL

Using a short URL such as goo.gl or tinyurl.com circumvents the ownership requirement. If students create a short URL of their link and submit that, the ownership of the document will not switch.


Instead of submitting their link as “Add,” the students can paste their link into the comments of the Google Classroom assignment. For the teacher there is practically no difference. The link is available in the assignment grading section either way. Submitting the link to comments does not require ownership and does not switch ownership of the document.


As the teacher, you can then go to the weekly assignment in Google Classroom and click on each student’s hyperlink they turned in. This will jump you in the document to the exact journal entry rather than requiring that you scroll down or use the table of contents. You can also open the folder in Classroom that contains the students journals and assess student work directly from there.
Jump to student hyperlink

Notice on this sample document that when you click on the link you are magically on page five and looking at “Journal Entry #4.” In the GIF below you can see me clicking on the students link she submitted. Her writing journal opens and then automagically jumps to “Journal Entry #4.”


Jump to Journal Entry 4

One of the joys of Google Classroom is that all student work for an assignment is neatly organized in a Google Drive folder. You can access that folder from Google Classroom by clicking on the “Folder” button in the original assignment itself. You can easily view all student writing journals at any time simply by viewing the folder in Drive.
Link to the folder of journals in Google Drive

Note that you need to link to the original Writing Journal assignment. The Classroom folder for the journal assignments will be empty since students are not submitting documents, they are submitting links to their previous document.

Share with Class

[expand title=”Click Here for the answer to how to share journals with the class.”]

Patrick also asked how to share student writing journals with the class. You can share the classroom folder as anyone in the class can view. You do this by going to the Writing Journal assignment folder in Google Drive. From the breadcrumbs along the top, if you click on the words for the folder name you can apply actions to that folder. Choose “Share.”
Google Drive Breadcrumbs click on last one

The share dialog box gives you the option as to who you want to share with. Click on the “Advanced” link in the bottom right-hand corner.
Click on advanced to share

You can click on “Change” to allow for anyone with the link to the folder can view. You can also copy and paste the email addresses of all your students into the “Invite people” box at the bottom. Explicitly inviting students restricts access to the journals to only students in the class.
Change or add people

By default when you share explicitly with students they can edit the journals of the other students. Notice the “Can edit” to the right of where you type in student email addresses is a button. When sharing a folder you can only give edit or viewing permissions. Give the students in the class viewing permissions to the folder.
Can View

Notice at the bottom of the sharing dialogue box, in incredibly small print, is the option to “Change” the ability for editors to change sharing permissions. Choose the second option that only the owner can change the permissions. This restricts the ability of students to share other student’s documents outside of the class.
Only owner can change sharing permissions


Google Classroom Announcement

As the teacher, you have access to ALL of the student journals from your Google Drive folder for the assignment. This means when creating an announcement you are able to attach any file that is in your Google Drive…. including student work. Click on the Google Drive icon. Click on the Classroom folder. Click on the assignment folder that contains the student journals. Use Control A to select all or use control click to select some of the student journals. This allows you to display ALL of the student journals right in Classroom. This gives all of the students in the class explicit viewing access of everyone’s journal. The links are always current so students can go back to the announcement anytime and view the journals of fellow students.


39 thoughts on “Google Classroom: Using a Writing Journal

  1. I did basically the same thing in terms of linking via GC. But, since I teach second and third grade, I didn’t want to get bogged down in document formatting so they could focus on the writing. So, I utilized Google Slides as the medium for the journal, making a new slide for each new entry. I also wanted it to be much easier to insert an image and not have to worry about wrapping text to make it look nice. And, it is possible to make Google Slides look like a regular document by using the custom page settings choice and size it to 8.5 X 11. My favorite outcome of this project was when students would actually respond to the comments I would leave. They also got a big kick out of being able to accept or reject my “suggestions” in the suggesting mode! Rock on, Charlie

          1. TY. I think I was looking for something more complicated. I use a Google Slides presentation for each of my classes as a daily assignment/information/activities ‘site’. I am toying with the idea of adding a TOC slide to make it easier to find previous day’s assignments. The presentation gets longer as the semester progresses.

    1. Great post, thank you! I find myself unable to “Make a copy for each student” – I only have two options showing up, “Students can view” or “Students can edit.” Your screen grab shows the third option. What to do?

  2. I followed your directions to create a weekly journal assignment. Very easy to follow. I also shared this with the teachers at my school. Even though I do not have journals in my classes I adapted this assignment for some of my weekly assignments. It is great to have all of the journals (or weekly assignments) in one file for each student. Thanks for the idea.

  3. First off, thanks for putting in so much work to help teachers with tech. I just purchased your book from amazon and they actually let me start reading some of it online!

    As for this particular post, I have one question. This year, I did paragraph journals where each student wrote paragraphs the entire year on one document so I could track their progress and improvement. Each time they turned it in, though, I had to manually change the ownership back to each student. A few extra time consuming steps, yes, but worth it anyway so I could keep all of their writing on the same doc. My questions: Can I avoid this changing ownership step somehow and still have students turn in each paragraph assignment to google classroom? Does the turning in a link instead of a doc that you describe above under Student Submission take care of this problem?

    1. Instruct students to NOT turn in the original journal. If they do… return it. They will turn in the LINK to the journal entry each week/day. Since they are turning in a link and not turning in the document the ownership will not change! Should solve all your problems.

  4. Thank you so much for this great tool! I am assuming that when assigning in GC, teachers would want to make a copy for each student so that it is a different doc for each? Excuse me if that was in the directions.

  5. I have started using this idea on our various websites. One website is dedicated to sports. I took the link provided by the heading in the table of contents and pasted it into our sports site to direct parents to a specific game or article. However, when I do that the article is viewed as an editable document. I want to make it so it is view only. Is that possible? Or do I just share the document as a view only document and then have the parents click on the appropriate heading inside the view only document?

    1. Probably you can not. A lot of the features, such as Add-Ons, do not work on mobile devices yet. Be patient, they are always adding functionality to Google mobile apps.

  6. Alice, thanks for this great idea. I have been using it for 2 weeks now. Some of my students are having difficulty. When copying the link from the TOC to the corresponding journal entry assignment, it is understanding it as if they submitting the actual journal rather than just a link. It worked fine for two entries, but after that it keeps failing. Any ideas. I am wondering if somehow the template got corrupted. Each of the links in the TOC are different, but when inserted as a link, it copies the whole template, thereby changing ownership of the document to me.

      1. Ok, but then how do I make sure they are adding just the link. I tried it and this is what I did. 1). Went to the journal entry #5 assignment and made sure previous links, etc were deleted. 2.). Went to original al journal assignment and clicked open and then clicked on the doc, which was copied for each student. 3.) Went to the TOC ,clicked on journal entry #5, highlighted the link, right clicked to copy URL. 4.). Went back to Google classroom and clicked on add link. Pasted link. 5.) When classroom verified link, instead of coming up with a general type Google thumbnail it cam up with a thumbnail of the cover of the journal. This then locks the journal so they can’t edit it, meaning we have submitted the journal rahter than submitting the link. Not sure where we went wrong. This was the process that we have been using for.the first four entries and it worked fine. Now.for about 5 students its not submitting the link but the journal.

      2. But how do you prevent that? The process worked for the first 3 entries, then depending on the student, it started to fail sometime after journal entry 3. Some on 4, some on 5, a couple on 6. So here is the process we are using…1.) Go to original journal assignment and open it. 2.) Setup new journal entry with Heading 1. 3.) Respond to journal prompt. 4.) go to TOC and refresh. 5.) right click on link for the current journal entry and select “Copy URL/link”. 6.) Go to GC and open appropriate Journal Entry Assignment. 7.) Click Add, and select link. 8.) Paste URl/Link when prompted and select add link…here is where it seems to mess up. Instead of the “google sign in” gif as the thumbnail, the cover of the journal shows up as the thumbnail, indicating that instead of the link to the journal, the actual document was submitted, thereby giving me ownership and preventing them from modifying it without unsubmitting it.

        Any ideas? On that just popped into mind as a way around the obstacle, is that the students each share their journals with me and then we will both have access when they submit the journal?


        1. If the student turned in the journal, then you become the owner and they can not turn in work they do not own. (Please submit feedback to get rid of that. It kills collaboration opportunities and projects that extend over time.) Have them UNSUBMIT or quickly return their work. Student can turn in the link to the private comment instead of adding a link, then the ownership will not change when they turn in, but right now there is a glitch with long URL’s. The work around is to make a short URL.

          1. Thanks for your reply. How do I create a short url? Also, did you get a chance to review my other question about the rubric. The email part of the script seems to not be working. It only generates one sheet and that sheet doesn’t have any of the rubric as well as the grading for that student, just there name. And it doesn’t generate sheets for all of the other students. Thanks for your time and all you do. I find your stuff very helpful and useful.

          2. Try tinyurl.com or bit.ly The email script does work, when it does not it is typically because there is a setting set by the apps domain manager who has disabled something that allows it to run.

    1. Thanks. I did try the tiny URL through Goo.gl and that seemed to fix the journal problem. As for the rubric, do you have an idea what setting from the domain manager might not allow that?

  7. Hi Alice,

    Thanks so much for all your help with Google classroom. I read your blogs all the time! I’m running into issues with journaling… Everything goes smoothly up until the point where students need to “ADD” their link. It fails on all of them. I’ve re-tried several times. Not sure what’s going on… Any ideas?

    1. Google made it so that you can not submit Google Docs you do not own and now adding a link to a Google Doc checks for ownership 🙁 Please submit feedback for ownership requirements to be repealed. Easy work around 1) Put link in comments instead of add link. Has the same effect, shows up on assignment grading screen, but no ownership switching or checking.

      1. HI Alice,

        I have a similar idea but desire something a little less complicated. Do you know how to create a reading log without using google docs but through google sites? I’ve gotten everything loosely set how I plan for things to be but can not seem to figure out how to create a platform under each student’s name where they simply click and type. In my head would be similar to journal style but I have hit a roadblock.

  8. First day of summer and I am thinking about what I do better next year. Thank you for still keeping this page posted. I plan to bring this into my classroom next year.

  9. I just created my own doc, based on your template and instructions (would be happy to share it with you), but when I right click (and I can’t share the screenshot here…or at least I don’t know how) there is no option to copy link. So, how am I going to have students submit the link in comments? Or is there some way to do this now which doesn’t require that step? Honestly, I like the ability to keep clicking to the right as I grade each student’s work so the idea of clicking multiple links seems a bit messy but maybe I don’t understand how it will work. I just want to have this set up and ready to go for the first week of January. Thanks for your help.

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