As our children grow in their ability to read independently, it is important that they learn how to actively interact and participate in what they are reading. We want them to read deeply, with comprehension and delight. We want them to love a clever or beautiful turn of phrase, and to carefully contemplate tricky or surprising ideas.
A reading journal is a wonderful way to develop this habit of careful, engaged reading. My older children at times will copy key sentences or quotes from their reading, but primarily their reading journals are retellings or responses to what they have read.
Reading Journals for elementary students, too?
Is the reading journal exercise reserved for mature students who can write paragraphs independently? No!
Even our elementary-aged children can profit from developing the simple habit of keeping a reading journal! They will not be expected to write original thoughts, but they are forming the habit of reading with a pencil and paper nearby.
Has a child ever come to you, having finished their assigned reading, unable to narrate back to you even the simplest elements of what they have read? While some children thrive in verbally expressing their thoughts, other children are able to communicate more easily through the written word. And while some children seem naturally able to process things simply from reading a book, other children seem to struggle a bit more in comprehending and understanding what they have read.
The simple “My First Reading Journal” style format I have used with my own family has helped children from all of those categories!
3 basic components in our simple reading journal model.
First, I ask my children to choose a few key words from their reading to copy out. They have complete freedom to choose. It could be a word they do not understand, a word that they find amusing, or a word that they think is important to the subject of the text. I generally assign them a range of 3-5 key words. Structured freedom often gives the best balance of both challenge and peace.
Key Phrase or Sentence
I also give my children the opportunity to copy a key phrase or sentence from their reading. I like to give both options because sometimes sentences can seem too long and overwhelming to little hands. Structured freedom, again!
Draw a Picture
Some of my children enjoy illustrating the story or copying a map or diagram. Others really do not. I always leave the drawing assignment optional. Sometimes, however, there is a more elaborate map or diagram they wish to copy, and I will allow them to do that instead of copying out all of the key words and phrases.
Do you complete a reading journal for every book? No!
Forcing a young child to complete a reading journal page every day for every book would surely kill their love of books just as much as a reading comprehension workbook! We read widely and copiously in our family as a vital component of our primarily textbook-free approach to history (and often science and other subjects as well).
Our practice is to assign a certain number of key words/sentences to be copied per week. We typically begin the practice of journaling around the 3rd grade. So, for instance, I might ask my 3rd grader (who will be independently reading every day for various subjects) to complete 2 reading journal pages each week this fall. As she grows in confidence and competency, I may extend that to 3 reading journal pages a week by the end of the spring semester.
My middle school and jr high students, on the other hand, have their own lovely bound journals in which they have much lengthier requirements. My 7th grader this past year, for instance, was expected to write in his reading journal daily for his history readings (although, to be fair, there were many days he missed), and he also had occasional science and logic readings to respond to as well. But I could never throw that requirement at someone who had not developed the practice and habit of journaling as they read, beginning with the simplest elements of key word and phrase copywork.
What about oral narration?
I have used a version of this reading journal approach with 3 children so far, and it has benefited our oral narrations in 3 completely different ways.
For one child, expressing their thoughts and feelings is very challenging. Writing narrations in the reading journal on their own, and occasionally discussing what has been written, has relieved some of the tension that brings to our relationship.
For another child, oral narration is a breeze. In fact, I might hear every. single. detail. Written narrations can be more challenging, and it forces them to choose key elements more carefully.
And for another child, reading with comprehension is a struggle. Incorporating a reading journal page exponentially increases their ability to narrate back to me what they have read with understanding.
Free “My First Reading Journal” Printables to use in your family
I designed a reading journal page to use in our own homeschool and had so much fun that I decided I should share the delight with you all!
I created 6 simple designs. 2 are black and white, and 4 are in color. The black and white pages are below, and you can download them right away and enjoy them! The other designs I have placed on a special page I share with my email subscribers. If you join my email list, you will receive access to all 6 “My First Reading Journal” designs and a few other printables on that page as a welcome gift.
What have you found helps develop attentive reading, thoughtful comprehension, and deep discussion in your family? Do you keep any kind of reading journal or commonplace book yourself? I’d love to hear your ideas!