Writing About Reading - Reading Reflection Journals:

Writing in response to literature can be a great way for students to organize their thoughts, explore what they think, and generate ideas. One of the strengths of writing in journals is that it allows students to capture all of those great ideas that generally float off into the air during the discussion.

Journal writing can also become drudgery if students are asked to write too often, given little choice or inspiration in what to write, or if they simply don't have anything to say.

While some students eagerly share their impressions about selections they have read in class discussions, others are less comfortable and keep their thoughts to themselves. In an effort to encourage all students to think more about what they read and confidently share their observations and opinions, some teachers are turning to the reading reflection journal and are gaining insights they never anticipated.

The Value of Reflection Journals
Journals assist teachers to gain insights regarding student comprehension of major ideas and concepts Written responses give us clear and powerful insight into how students are constructing their knowledge of language. When we ask students to write in response to what they've read, we not only get to see what they're thinking about, but the writing is tangible evidence of how they're learning to spell, punctuate, and put ideas together.

Journals can reveal what lies in the heart and mind of the reader. We may witness examples of student writing that illustrate powerfully how strongly a child has connected with a story.

A carefully worded prompt can offer students a way to show us what they know and can do. This is more likely to occur when the reader is engaged in reading a text that involves issues that resonate with the reader. Such issues are more likely to draw a strong response from the reader.

Ways to Use A Reader’s Reflection Journal

 To collect thoughts and ideas about text
 To record evidence from text
 To record and reflect on facts, especially during research
 To record partnership and book club conversations
 To take notes from a read aloud
 To take notes in preparation for conversation
 To reflect on facts or events/changes in a text
 To record connections and build understanding from them
 To collect sticky notes when done with a text
 To reread to build new thinking and then write more
 To use shorter notes as basis for longer entries
 To freewrite to access thinking
 To make plans for more reading
 To reflect on one’s reading process and progress
 To make plans for writing about reading
 To plan and organize genres of writing about reading
 To record texts read across year and evaluate
 To write about any of the “ways to think about books”
 To try out language for longer writing about reading genres
 To record telling quotes from books
 To make connections across books
 To muse about language, authors, ideas, characters, and so on
 To note favourite part of books and reflect on why
 To record information from book reviews, author visits, and other literary events
 To record teaching and learning and refer back to them
 To reread and reflect on previous entries

*Sketch to Stretch is another journal strategy. This strategy uses drawing and discussion as a pre cursor to more extended writing. It's a great way to encourage students to think symbolically as they capture images and words as they read. They discuss their drawing with a partner/small group before adding their own words to the illustration.

Valuable Insights
Some teachers have two sets of prompts, one for fiction books and one for non-fiction reading. The questions are quite different. Students choose a fiction or non-fiction prompt based on the material they are reading, and they are free to select any prompt or make up their own.
When students gather for share time, each student reads his or her entry, and the rest of the group comments on what was written,"

When students are reading non-fiction books, they can be encouraged to take notes on what they consider to be the most important ideas. They may also designate a page for new vocabulary. Another option is to have students draw a simple graphic organizer in their journals and complete it while reading.

It is important not to overdo the use of journals. Students should enjoy their reading, and using journals everyday would inevitably lead students to a point where they may resent the writing.

Searching For The Spark!
An improvement in fluency and expression of ideas as well as higher levels of thinking generally results from introducing journals. Journals also help students to see writing as a means of thinking and reflecting. If journals are used as tools for reflective and critical thinking about reading, they become a "springboard" for class discussion. They also provide a vehicle for students to goal set for themselves as readers.
With the introduction of reading response journals much modelling of responses is needed. This will provide students with exemplars to follow. Following this period of time, students need to be provided with a set of guidelines outlining the purposes for reader reflection journals.

The modelling needs to continue once students begin making their own entries along side those of the teacher. Exemplary student entries should be read aloud and shared.

I like how the writer used the word slaughtered instead of killed. It’s stronger. The beginning paragraph pulls you in when it says “In a desperate attempt to save the rhino. The author jumps right into what is happening…”

I think Solomon Singer had a horrible place to live. He hated everything in New York until he wandered into the Westway CafĂ©, ‘where dreams come true’ This is a wonderful book about feelings dreams and angels. When our teacher was reading, the author’s words made me visualize. I had a picture of a perfect home for Solomon….

(Examples from Strategies That Work, Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis)

It is important to assist students to move their responses beyond an initial, personal reaction toward a more reflective, critical response.
By providing scaffolds we can move students beyond first impressions to more critical thought by providing open-ended thinking prompts - “Think about Maniac Magee’s's reaction to Amanda when they first meet as compared to his reaction when he meets her family”, rather than questions that may appear to have right or wrong answers “What was Maniac Magee’s reactions to Amanda after he meets her family? "

Making Journals Work
The following advice is provided for those teachers who wish to start using reading reffection journals:

Don't overwhelm students by asking them to write about their reading every day. If you take that approach, they won't have time for the joy of reading itself!

Seek to achieve a balance. If you push for too much writing, it becomes a dreaded task. If you only use journals once a month, students will not become proficient in using journals to reflect on their reading.

Be flexible with how you use journals. One week you could use them for a traditional written response, and the next week offer the option of using a graphic organizer. Use them for taking notes, recording imagery in a story, recording new words, or other purposes. A variety of approaches keeps the interest level up.

Go slowly. Try to find prompts or questions that will really make your students respond to what they're reading in a way that is meaningful to them.

Less is more. Write less often but focus on things that matter deeply to your students. Ask them to help you figure out what that might be.

Make it meaningful. The more engaged your students are with what they're writing, the more assessment information you'll glean about what they know, think, and can do as readers and writers.

Preparing for Journals
One very effective strategy is to gather, or write actual pieces of writing that illustrates an effective journal response.-¬ it makes it much easier than simply writing in the dark. It's so much more helpful to be able to see what specific traits make a piece of writing effective, or not so effective. Students responding with quality and depth to reading in their journals will be supported by including topics such as:
• Advice for the author or characters;
• Text connection to self, another text, or the world;
• Ideas for writing;
• Light bulb or Aha! moments.

The following prompts may be used to support students in developing the reader’s response to a text:

If I were the character...
A quote I like or reacted to strongly is...
I wonder about...
This reminds me of...
I predict...
This line is interesting/ challenging/ puzzling because...
I now understand why/how/what...
I was surprised by...
Some questions I have are...
I'm confused about...
Was the plot believable? Why?
Who would enjoy reading this text?
Did you enjoy the writing style used by the author? Explain
Do you enjoy this genre? Explain
Did you connect to a character or event? Explain how
Was it a page turner?
Did your mind wander during reading? Why?
Did the text hold many surprises? Explain

Here are some prompts with an emphasis on summarizing skills to help you get started.

The setting of this story is important because…

The book makes me think about…

The most important ideas are…

Two, three, or four key events are…

I think the purpose of the text is…

The parts of the text that help me to work out the purposes are…

The main thing that happens is…

To me the book is about…

I wonder…

A question I have about this book is… because…

I don’t understand…

The big ideas in the book were…

Some important details I noticed were… They were important because…

To summarize the text, I would say…

The main characters of the story are… because…

I think the theme of the text is…

Something I have learned from reading the text is…


  1. Wow, definitely some interesting prompts there! I especially like these:
    Some important details I noticed were… They were important because…
    The parts of the text that help me to work out the purposes are…
    The book makes me think about…
    I'm keeping a reflective journal and it will be interesting to write on these prompts there.

    1. While I wrote this post some time ago, it is pleasing to think it still appears to have currency. Harris, good luck with your reading reflections.


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