En la Clase: Dialogue Journals

One of our main purposes in creating the Vamos a Leer blog was to encourage teachers to use literature that would bring Latin American content into their classrooms.  We hope that our book suggestions, curriculum materials, and compilations of available resources is helping you to do this.  But, we also wanted to create a space for discussions about specific teaching ideas and activities.  Each week we will be highlighting an interesting idea that can be implemented in the classroom and sharing it here in our “En la Clase” announcement.

Recently I was reading through Linda Christensen’s book Reading, Writing and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.  The whole book is great–I would definitely recommend it. Her “Dialogue Journal” is one activity that I think would be especially useful in teaching literature.  One of the goals in using a diverse canon of literature is to get students to really engage in thinking about different cultures, to have some knowledge of the cultures and backgrounds of their classroom peers.  Christensen’s dialogue journal provides a structure in which students can begin to do this.  The dialogue journal moves beyond asking students to merely retell the plot.  Instead, it asks them to really connect with the story and the characters, to relate to the text in a more personal way.  We all know that when we get our students to engage like this, their comprehension and the knowledge they retain increases exponentially. Not only is Christensen’s activity encouraging an increased investment on the part of the students, she’s also explicitly encouraging them to take notice of good writing and literary techniques so that as their reading ability improves, so does their writing ability.

In this activity, students keep a journal as they read through a particular book or text.  Their journal is divided into two columns: Observations/Quotes and Reflections/Reactions.  Then, Christensen gives students the following general guiding themes to look for and think about as they move through the reading–

1. Social Questions–Look for race, class and gender inequalities

2. Great writing–Look for a line, phrase, a paragraph that you think is great writing.  You might want to “steal” some ideas or words from this passage for a poem or to use in an essay or story. Ultimately, learning to recognize good writing helps you write better

3. QuestionsIt could be that you don’t understand something that is going on in the novel or in a passage

4. Talk Back-Get mad at the character or storyteller.  Talk back. Disagree. Shout.  These are great discussion starters.

5. Memories–Every text changes somewhat depending on the reader and his/her experiences.  You might hear yourself saying, “That reminds me of. . .” What memories click on when you read?

6. Aha’s–As you read, you might start to notice a thread that you want to follow.  Keep track of these threads.  When it comes time to write an essay, you will have all the evidence you need.

7. Other readings–Sometimes as we read, other books or movies come to mind.  It’s good to write those down.  Sometimes we learn by making comparisons.

8.  Literary Techniques–In number two, I ask you to keep track of great writing–lines, phrases–but I’d also like you to watch for literary techniques: use of imagery, flashback, blocking, dialogue.  Again, noticing these contributes to your own ability to write.

Large sections of the above was directly cited from Linda Christensen’s Reading, Writing and Rising Up, pg. 48. Published by Rethinking Schools, 2000.

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