The Reading Journal is a powerful learning tool every reader and Language Arts/English instructor should use with their students! When students are shown how to use reading journals to their advantage, they can be the ultimate reading resource into how a student's brain works during the reading process.
I require my students to use the old-school composition books as their reading journals. Because of their durability and size, they work well for us throughout the school year.
Before we get started, I ask my students to write their first and last names on the cover and inside of their reading journals along with their class period. As we begin using our journal, I also require them to use labels that include the title of what we're working on, the date, and other info. that might be important such as chapter numbers/titles, page numbers, etc. These may seem like no-brainers, but you'd be surprised how many high school students overlook the importance of labeling work.
One of the first journal entries I have my students write in their reading journals is an entry entitled My Reading History that answers the following prompts:
- My favorite book is...
- My favorite author is...
- The last book I finished was...
- Books I'm currently reading...
- My favorite kind of book is...
- I read _____ number of books per year.
As always, I model this entry with my own answers in my reading journal first. I then share them with the entire class. I explain to them, "This entry gives me some basic background knowledge as to what kind of readers you are. It also shows me what your reading interests are and how often you read. Information like this is important because it helps me design the reading activities we will need to do this year."
After this, we move into creating a list entitled Books I Want to Read This Year. Even if students only list a few books, I've set an expectation in my classroom that shows students, "Yes, she's serious about reading. Looks like we might be doing a lot of work with reading this year." As the year progresses and students learn about books from other students, a visit to the library, myself, etc., we can add to this list any time we want to.
Our reading journal also serves as a place for note-taking. When I teach a mini-lesson on Selecting, Speed, Accuracy, Phrasing, Expression, Understanding, or Thinking, I model the notes I want my students to have in my own reading journal (see pgs. 24-56 in Reading Allowed: Making Sure the "R" Comes First). We'll use these notes as our criteria for what makes good reading and our reading journal is the perfect place for us to copy them down because we'll use it all year long.
If we go to the Library or guest authors appear on campus, I require my students to write down what they like/don't like about the speaker, anything that sounds interesting, titles of texts shared, resources, etc. By having them keep notes like this, I'm holding them accountable for paying attention and listening to the speaker. I'm also setting up the foundation for our discussion when we returen to the classroom.
Journal Entries About What We're Reading
Our reading journals also serve as a home for the work with do with various texts. We start out with easier entries that include why we picked a particular book, favorite parts in that book, questions we have while we're reading, etc.
As we progress through the reading process and school year, we move into journal entries that require more thought like sets of questions called Read Like a Reader/Read Like a Writer (see pgs. 143-153 in Reading Allowed). Later, we'll move into even more sophisticated journaling that focuses on writing techniques in a particular genre.
Model, Model, Model
When students are shown how to use a reading journal to their advantage, they're more prone to use it. Regardless of a reader's skill level, reading journals work best when students see examples of what they're expected to do. That's why, as English instructors, we need to model labeling entries, creating book lists, answering questions, copying excerpts, and the skills good readers use each time they read. Modeling shows students that even good readers need to write things down, too.
Requiring students to keep reading journals shows them that I'm interested in their growth in the reading skills we teach them, whether or not they understand what they're reading, how their reading interests may change over time, and whether or not they keep track of their reading. Because I cannot crawl into my students' heads to monitor how their brains work during the reading process, I have to use tools like reading journals to help me figure out what they're thinking and why.
Reading journals used in purposeful ways with clear expectations work because kids see reading in ways they never thought possible. When I see students take journaling to levels I haven't even thought of, I know the work we've done with our reading journals has been worth it.