Double Entry Journals

I’m about to share one of the best “tricks” I have as a teacher: the double entry journal (DEJ). Over the years, I’ve noticed that sometimes students don’t prepare for class. They don’t do the assigned reading or they do it on a cursory level without really engaging with the text. This makes my job as a teacher harder–I have to try to figure out how to address a class in which some students have no idea what I’m talking about. I also have to do a lot of the work of helping students understand basic ideas. The DEJ requires that students take more responsibility for their learning.

The DEJ is a really simple tool.

  • Students read an assigned text
  • They select 3-6 passages that they think are important
  • In a word document, they create two columns
  • In the left column, they type out the selected passages (with page number so that I can find the passage if I need to)
  • In the right column, they type out their commentary, their interpretation of each of the selected passages

I alter my instructions depending on what I want them to get out of the reading. In the commentary section, students could also ask questions, argue with the writer, explain why they think the quote is important, or apply the quote to other things we’ve been studying in class. If the assigned text is a piece of literature, they can interpret, analyze, or provide context for the passages they’ve selected. I could also ask them to identify six facts that they think are important in the reading and describe why. There are endless variations to this activity.

In class, sometimes I ask students to start off class discussion by sharing one of their passages and explaining why they thought it was important. We can also turn to their work if the discussion lags or becomes too general. Students can even use the DEJ when they are doing a writing assignment or preparing for an exam.

But I also ask students to turn in the DEJ. While they’re learning how to do this assignment effectively, I give a lot of feedback–I ask them to extend their commentary or dig deeper. I point out when the passages they’ve selected aren’t terribly important and why. I make sure they understand how to create a good DEJ. Within a few uses of this assignment, I no longer need to give feedback to most of the students–I merely give them a check plus if they’ve done a great job, a check if they’ve done the assignment adequately, a check minus if they need to improve their work (and I tell them how to improve), and a zero if they haven’t fulfilled the assignment.

The DEJ is eventually easy to grade–but it also gives me a lot of information about my students’ reading level and their ability to determine what is important in what they read. Moreover, DEJs provide a tangible record of which reading comprehension strategies my students use and how my students think/interpret what they read. I can use this information to provide better instruction for my class.

I’ve also found that discussion is much stronger when students do DEJs. They actually have opinions about what they read and are more actively involved in our class discussion. I really love how DEJs improve what happens inside my class at the same time that it ensures that students have to at least skim the reading assignment and think about it on some level.

So there you have it, one of the most effective tricks I’ve learned to use in my teaching.

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I just loved this strategy the first time I read it. And now I’ve seen the result on my vg1-students at my school. They’re 16 years old. I’m impressed, and slightly emotional as well!!!!

    They’ve had a reading project where they read one novel of their own choice, for instance “The Great Gatsby” (Fitzgerald), “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (Mark Haddon), “A Long Way Gone” (Ishmael Beah), “Animal Farm” (Orwell) and a few other books. The students who read the same books formed groups (3-5 students per group) and worked with different assignments, such as
    * write a plot summary
    * write a presentation of the author
    * make a vocabulary quiz from one difficult section in the book
    … and of course the Double Entry Journal.

    I explained the DEJ strategy to them on a Wednesday, and they were working on it individually on the Friday while I was in London.

    Now I’ve skimmed through most of their DEJs and I must say I’m amazed. The quality of their comments differ, of course, but within each group they have focused on so many different aspects of the books!! It’s really fantastic! Some of them have asked my questions. Some of them have related their passages to experiences from their own life etc. etc.

    THANKS, KATHEE. I will definitely use this again.

    FYI, I basically gave my students the same instructions as you had posted on this page, and they managed to pick up on the idea.

    Happy Valentine’s Day from Happy Teacher Stine:)

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