Dialectical Journals in the ELA Classroom

By The Daring English Teacher

Assigning dialectical journals to your students is a sure-fire way to get them to interact with the text on a deeper level. Additionally, dialectical journals are a great addition to any novel study. When students know they will need to record and analyze meaningful quotes, they read the text more closely. Traditionally, dialectical journals are double-entry journal responses where a student writes a quote from the book on the left-hand side and then reacts and analyzes the quote on the right-hand side.

However, in today’s era of online study guides, it is all too easy for students to look up a quote and its corresponding analysis instead of authentically engaging with the text.

One of my favorite ways to have students complete dialectical journal entries while also dissuading them from looking on the Internet for answers is to require students to connect their dialectical journal entries to a predetermined concept. Usually, when I do this in my classroom, I think about my final project and goal for teaching the novel. From there, I select several big-picture concepts that thematically relate to the plot. In doing so, my students keep a detailed journal filled with meaningful quotes as they read that they will be able to use as evidence for the final essay once we finish the book.

When I use this strategy for my dialectical journal assignments, I require three distinct components for their entries: a correctly cited quote, an insightful explanation that includes literary analysis, and a connection to the concept. 

For the quote, I typically allow the kids to select any quote they like. However, I instruct them that the quote must be complete and that it must be one that they think is important. I require that my students place quotation marks around the quote and that they cite it in MLA Format. Citing the quote is especially helpful because then students know where to find the quote again. 

For the explanation, I encourage students to include a thorough explanation as well as analysis. To get students thinking, I first prompt them with some questions: What is happening in the quote and why is it important? How does this quote move the plot along or advance the conflict? Does this quote relate to another part of the test? What symbolic or figurative meaning does this quote include and what does it mean? By prompting students with these questions, I find that I am more likely to receive higher quality analysis from my students. 

For the final part of the dialectical journal entry, I require my students to connect the quote they chose to one of the class concepts we are studying. Before we even begin reading the novel, we discuss these concepts as a class. If time permits, I introduce these concepts to my students with one-day poster projects. 

I added this third component to my dialectical journal entries to combat plagiarism from online sites. It is so easy for students to look up quotes and their corresponding analysis for a dialectical journal entry; however, this connection to a class concept component helps focus students on finding their own quotes. 

Here is a list of concepts to use with some literature in your classroom.

Romeo and Juliet: Love (and the power of love), Hate, Family, Violence (and the causes of violence), Foolishness, Impulsivity, Tragedy, and Mortality.

Of Mice and Men: The American Dream, Friendship, Prejudice, Companionship, Discrimination, Dreams, Isolation, Justice, and Women in Society

Animal Farm: Parallels to the Soviet Union, Socialist ideas, Classes, Leadership, Corruption, Lies and deceit, Violence, Pride, Religion.

Lord of the Flies: Civilization, Savagery, Leadership, Order, Intelligence, Fear, Innocence, Loss of Innocence, War.

Night: Inhumanity, Losing faith in God, Tradition, Religion, Mortality, Lies and deceit, Night, Human rights, Torture, Silence, Indifference.
To help students write more analytical dialectical journals, I've created this FREE Dialectical Journal Template. This template includes both color and black-and-white versions of two different templates: one template follows a linear pattern, and the other follows a traditional double-sided journal entry pattern.

More great dialectical journal and literary analysis ideas:
Teaching the Process for Literary Analysis by Room 213
Creative Reading Task Cards by Nouvell ELA
Quote Analysis and Poster Project by Secondary Sara

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