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Professional development - double journal entries

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What Is It?

Students can use a double-entry journal to help them study concepts or vocabulary, express opinions, justify an opinion using text, and understand or respond to the text they are reading. The double-entry journal is a two-column journal. In the left column, students write a piece of information from the text, such as a quotation or a concept, which students want to expand upon, understand better, or question. In the right column, students relate to or analyze the information that is written in the left column. For example, the student could title the left column "Quotes" and the right column "Reflections." In this instance, the student would copy quotes from the text in the left column and reflect upon what they mean in the right column.

Below is an example of how a language arts teacher who is teaching Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, could use a double-entry journal.

Double-Entry Journal for Walden by Henry David Thoreau



"To be awake is to be alive." (from the chapter "Where I Lived and What I Lived For"

I think that you can go though your whole life asleep if you don't stop and think about what you're doing. It's important to make conscious choices, especially when you're my age.

"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this by the narrowness of my experience." (from the chapter "Economy")

I disagree with what Thoreau says here. I think that you can know another person as well as you know yourself. I know my best friend as well as I know myself. Sometimes, I don't think I know myself well at all.

"Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe." (from the Conclusion)

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the truth because you don't want to hurt a person's feelings or because it's hard for you to admit something. It was hard for me to tell my dad that I didn't want to go to the same college he did, but I was glad that I told him afterwards.

Why Is It Important?

Double-entry journals give students a way to interact personally with the text, by reflecting on and writing about their understanding of the material they are reading. Students can use the text to form an opinion and then use pieces of text to support their opinions. Students process the information and relate to the text, increasing reading comprehension.

Research by Marzano (1988) emphasises the importance of metacognition and student learning. By writing about what they are thinking, students show their thinking process as they read, allowing teachers to redirect or encourage students to be more effective readers.

How Can You Make It Happen?

Double-entry journals can be used effectively for expression or for more concrete purposes. For example, if students are reading material in class that they can personally react to, then they can use the double-entry journal to express their feelings and opinions about the material. On the other hand, students may need to learn specific information such as new vocabulary words or historical events. In this instance, students can use the double-entry journal as a study guide.

Distribute a blank double-entry journal to students or show them how to create one in their notebooks. Have students draw a line down the centre of a piece of paper to make two columns. Model the use of a double-entry journal with the class by displaying one on the board. First, show students how to use the double-entry journal in an expressive way. Think about a topic you are currently teaching that students can respond to personally or ask questions about. For example, if you are teaching a unit on abolition and the Civil War, in the left column write some interesting quotes or the names of some of the significant people who lived during that time. Brainstorm with students thoughts or reflections they have about the quotes or the people, and write students' comments in the right column. Discuss their thoughts and explain how reflecting in writing can help them consider the material more thoroughly.

Encourage students to work independently using the double-entry journal. To do this, consider some concrete information students need to know that relates to the material you are teaching. For example, write down some vocabulary words students need to know, some dates that are important, or some concepts or rules students need to master. Have students copy the terms in the left column. Break students into pairs, and have them define the concepts or terms using the column on the right. If time allows, have pairs join together into groups of four to compare their double-entry journals and discuss each other's reflections about the text. Instruct students to use their double-entry journals as study guides for an upcoming test or quiz.

How Can You Stretch Students' Thinking?

To stretch students' thinking, decide whether you want them to use the double-entry journal for an expressive or a concrete activity, and instruct them to choose the information to put into both the left and the right columns. For example, if you want students to express their thoughts about a story or novel they are reading, have them pick out the important quotes in a particular chapter and then reflect upon them. Students can practice justifying and supporting their opinions with evidence from the text. If you want students to learn concrete information that they are studying, have them select important terms or concepts from the unit you are teaching for the left column and define them in the right column.

When Can You Use It?


Have students write the names of several characters from a book they are reading in the left column, and then have them describe what they think about the characters in the right column. Ask students to select and write three meaningful quotes from a book they are reading in the left column. In the right column, ask them to explain why they chose the quote and what it means to them.


Assign a specific writing topic, such as a descriptive essay about what students like best about a favourite time of year. Have them use the double-entry journal as an outline for their writing assignment, writing the ideas they want to include in their essay in the left column and expanding on their ideas in the right column. For example, ask students to write the essay including the use of three senses. Have them write the name of each sense in the left column and how they are going to describe that sense in their essay in the right column.


Have students copy different shapes in the left column and identify the shapes in the right column. Give students math problems to write in the left column. Have them solve the problems in the right column. Have students write a geometric theorem in the left column and write the proof in the right column. Have students write a periodic function in the left column and draw the graph of the function in the right column.

Social Studies

Have students write three questions they have about a unit you are about to study, such as the The French Revolution in the left column. In the right column, have them write the answers once they learn them. Have students write the names of places about which they are learning in the left column, and have them explain what they know about each place in the right column.


Have students guess what is going to happen in an experiment, and have them write their guesses in the left column. In the right column, have them record what the actual results were. Give students scientific terms that relate to a unit you are studying, and have them define the terms in the right column.

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