Most of my students are required to read at least one unabridged book every year as part of the curriculum. These students are at least at a B1 level, but differences in language and comprehension skills within the same group of students are not uncommon. As a complement to small-group guided reading sessions or literature circles, I have found double-entry journals especially useful as a flexible tool that adapts to each student’s performance level in a very efficient way, working just as well with short stories or other types of text.
Double-entry journals are typically made up of two columns: students select a quote they find relevant from the text and write it down on the left column, and then they write their personal response to it on the right one. Students are given a number of options to guide their reactions and make them as varied as possible. For example:
- Personal reaction (How do you feel?)
- Personal connection (“This reminds me of…”)
- Is there a good idea in it?
- Any questions about one of the characters? Or the narrator? Perhaps the plot?
- Make a prediction about what is going to happen later in the book.
- Explain any previous reference to something that has already happened in the book. Does it clarify things?
- Is there any word you have learnt in the passage that you particularly like? What about the style?
In all of these cases, students are encouraged to interact with the text at different levels, making reference to other passages in the text itself, or setting up connections between the text and the world or between the text and the students themselves. And perhaps most important for us here, students can complete the task successfully at their own language level. The following are examples of journals that students from the same group are currently working on as they read “King of Shadows” by Susan Cooper:
Flexibility is, therefore, what makes double-entry journals ideal for EFL students:
- Students are allowed to interact with the text in a way that is relevant to the reader.
- Several comprehension skills which are usually transferred from L1 can be demonstrated at various levels despite proficiency limitations. Even fairly complex ideas can be explained in a communicatively efficient way in fairly simple English.
- The fact that students can work at their own performance level encourages student motivation and a sense of accomplishment. It also promotes writing fluency.
- Apart from personalised feedback from the teacher, double-entry journals can be the starting point for reading circles and shared orally with other students.
I have also noticed that students writing a double-entry journal tend to be more careful with their reading, going back and forward more often or looking up certain words to clarify something that has particularly caught their attention. They also make use of context clues more often, which results in a reading experience that is far more precise and enriching. Finally, if you want to implement double-entry journals, I recommend starting with short texts first and modelling the process until students are familiar with the procedure.