Elementary school journal writing can take many different forms and serve a variety of purposes, especially for the youngest readers. Making the connection between a student's reading and informal writing is incredibly powerful for building understanding, and can help to create a strong foundation of literary skills.
Using elementary school journal writing as a tool to aid reading comprehension can be accomplished in several ways. Here are three that employ a response to reading:
- As part of a read aloud, a teacher can have each student write a response in journal format. This can be done during the reading to make predictions, or at the end to reflect or summarize. The writing can be highly scripted (“I liked this story because...”) or be more open ended (the student describes the setting in his own words).
- During guided reading groups, a teacher can have students respond to the group’s selected text in their reading response journals. These responses can be connected to both the text selection and the skill or reading strategy the group is practicing. For example, the teacher might ask the group to respond to a text in relation to a specific strategy, "How are you like the main character?" This will require students to use a variety of comprehension skills to answer: text knowledge, strategy use, and thoughtful response. At times, teachers may want students to choose their own topics, so each student's comprehension and response will be unique. These make great discussion starters for the group!
- Independent reading is a great companion to journal writing because it encourages students to focus on characters and events in order to compose entries in their reading response journals. Teachers may establish set times for students to respond in their journals, and even have specific topics to set the stage for student responses.This strategy is best supported initially by the teacher through modeling. Over time, as learners continue to increase their comprehension and display success with independent reading, teachers can hand over full responsibility of responding to the reading by allowing students to choose their own journal topics. Lakeshore® has some wonderful ideas to support independent reading.
One of the most important things to remember is that elementary school journal writing for the earliest readers will span a variety of ability levels. Some students will be able to compose paragraphs, others will write sentences, while others still may use a combination of words and pictures to convey their ideas. All of these are valid responses, as long as the students are communicating their comprehension and ideas. The quality of the response is not determined by the length or complexity, but by a thoughtful response and reflection based on the student's comprehension of the reading.
We also like to remind teachers that journal writing is a very personal exercise. Students should never be forced to share the contents of their journals; sharing should only be on a voluntary basis. Since bullying is a notoriously dangerous issue these days, a journal should not in any way be used as a diary. Teachers must take care to connect journal exercises directly to classroom assignments.
For more effective ways to engage readers, download our Best Practices Guide for K-6 Reading Comprehension, today!