When we encourage our students to read, we often ask them to give creative feedback on their reading experience. This could be writing different types of text responses or a sequel to a story, or preparing a presentation or illustrations of the book.
Keeping a reading journal is one of the most popular and creative ways to respond to a text and it can contribute to your students’ language learning over a longer period of time. It helps the students build a close and personal relationship with the stories they read, which will reverberate in future reading, investing new reading sessions with a powerful sense of ownership. Ideally, their reading journals will keep them company throughout their school years, and even beyond.
What is a reading journal?
A reading journal is either a handwritten or digital journal in which a reader keeps notes about various aspects of a book. In a journal, we might:
- take notes about the most important plot elements,
- write about our emotional responses to the plot,
- share insights about the theme and the plot,
- describe how we feel about the characters,
- collect quotes that inspire us and which we would like to remember,
- do some research on the cultural, historical or scientific background of the story.
Language learners can also keep notes of interesting expressions, phrases and new words they read in the stories. They may want to collect words in ‘families’ or create word trees in order to help them recall the new terms.
Why keep one?
A reading journal helps us remember and organize our memories of a story. It makes us stop and think and helps develop reflective and critical thinking skills. It is always a way of keeping important details about the story together, to use in further class discussions or projects. But most importantly it helps us understand what we like and why we like it, giving us greater insight ans self-awareness.
How to keep a reading journal:
Adults, young adults and teenagers can keep either a paper journal or a digital one.
If they decide to keep a paper journal, ask them to choose a dedicated notebook they can easily carry with them. If they go for a digital journal, they can either keep it in a Word document or on a virtual platform, for example Google Drive. More experienced students can keep a reading blog (a private one if they prefer not to share).
Young learners should have a small booklet in which they write about the stories they read at school. Or a larger one if they wish to draw pictures of the stories, adding some words or sentences.
We believe that a handwritten journal is the most personal way of keeping a journal as it grows with the students, and it can become an artistic adventure if they add illustrations or photos to it.
How to use a reading journal in class
Go into the details your students will need to keep their reading journal. Also tell them why you think they should keep one. It is also important to give them some pointers so that they don’t feel lost.
Remind your students to note the following information for each book:
- Publishing date
- Time of reading (when they started and finished the book)
They can also pick from these topics to write about:
- Context: time and setting
- Plot summary
- Main themes
- My favourite characters / My least liked characters
- Surprising events in the story
- Interesting phrases
- Some cultural and historical information
- My favourite quotes
Young learners can use the following pointers:
- Time of reading
- My favourite character
- My favourite moment in the story
- Five words I really liked in the story
Of course students can illustrate their reading journals.
Students should be allowed to keep their reading journals personal. However, if they feel like sharing it with others, they are welcome to present it in class when they have finished reading a book or at the end of the term. It is important to tell students that you would like to see them use their journals during classroom discussions. This is how they get used to note-taking, summary-making and reflection, all of which are important skills that are useful in other disciplines, too.