Before, during and after reading
Journals provide space to reflect and build on learning about a particular read aloud text. Journals allow students to revisit past thinking, add new learning and create a permanent record of their growth over time. They also provide a safe medium for students to explore their initial understandings of the text without the pressure of having to verbalize the meaning or of being evaluated. Additionally, keeping journals “can be the first step to students’ development of critical awareness of identity.” 1
- Establish writing rules for journal writing time.
- Independent work with no oral communication during the writing time.
- Thinking during the writing time is part of writing.
- Pictures, diagrams and symbols are OK to include.
- Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation; worry about thoughts.
- Be willing to share what you write.
- Get students started journaling after a read aloud. Remind students that, although there is no right or wrong answer, they should include as many details from the text as possible to support their ideas. Use one or more of these prompts:
- Create a Venn diagram to compare [character A] and [character B].
- Illustrate how today’s read aloud made you feel.
- Identify the main idea or theme from the read aloud. Are there illustrations in the text that helped you reach this understanding?
- Draw a picture representing the most important part of the read aloud.
- Who is telling the story in the read aloud? How does the point of view affect how the story is told?
- What does the author want us to know?
- What symbol can you use to describe how the author of today’s read aloud feels about [insert topic]?
- What do you still want to know after exploring today’s read aloud text?
- Relate today’s read aloud to another story or text.
- Describe the characters.
- Describe the setting.
- Describe the plot.
- Talk about how you are similar to one of the characters from today’s read aloud.
- Allow 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time.
- Share journal entries after writing time in whole class, small group or partner discussions. Facilitate the discussion using conversation starters like:
- How is your journal entry similar to your partner’s journal entry?
- What details from the read aloud text did you write about?
- What details from the read aloud text did your partner write about?
- Why did you choose to include … from the text in your journal entry?
- What informed our different interpretations?
- Read and respond to student journals regularly to increase impact.
- Do not evaluate journals for conventions of language or “right/wrong” answers. Non-evaluated entries provide a safe space for readers to process new information.
English language learners
The continual practice of language application to familiar topics and ideas extends students’ command of English. To adapt this strategy for English language learners, journal prompts should include illustrations, symbols and sentence starters. English language learners should also feel comfortable including first language vocabulary to maintain fluency. Oral sharing of the journal entry with whole class, small group and partners provides valuable speaking and listening practice.
Connection to anti-bias education
Journal writing contributes to the development of a healthy sense of identity. The journal provides a safe space for students to process their understanding of the central text, without the fear of making an error or answering incorrectly. The conversations following writing time encourage community dialogue and foster healthy inter-group relationships. Through conversation about varying interpretations of the same text, students see that individuals connect to text from multiple points of reference and that all voices are valuable.