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Double-Entry Reading Journals

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To construct knowledge, we have to actively interact with and manipulate the raw materials, facts. A double entry reading journal is one way to interact with what we read, increase critical thinking skills, and create a meaningful construction–namely, a better understanding of what we read.

To create a double-entry reading journal, divide a page of paper into two vertical columns. In the left-hand column, write notes, quotes, lists, descriptions, or short summaries from the book–things that strike you as remarkable, puzzling, odd, or significant. In the right-hand column, write your reactions. Reactions could include comments, objections, feelings, ideas, or even illustrations or doodles.

A double-entry journal on works of fiction or poetry can be part of the process of reflection required to understand literature. You can create a vocabulary study guide with a double-entry journal of new vocabulary words found while reading, along with definitions and examples of how they are used. A double-entry journal of notes taken from a textbook can become a study guide, a good solution for students who can't bear to mark up their books.

Double-entry journals for literature
In literature, double-entry journals help the reader relate passages of the piece to his or her own experience. The journals can prompt and enrich classroom discussion; if you are being graded on participation in discussions, keep up your double-entry journal, and keep it handy! You can also "mine" your journal for ideas for essays and papers, and an added plus is that you will already have begun to support your points with citations from the story. The following example is from a double-entry journal on Huckleberry Finn. At any natural pause in the reading, the reader copies passages from the book on the left, and records personal reactions on the right:

Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
"What you doin' with this gun?"
I judged he didn't know nothing about what he had been doing, so I says: "Somebody tried to get in, so I was laying for him."
"Why didn't you roust me out?"
"Well, I tried to, but I couldn't; I couldn't budge you."-Ch 7
Huck is "covering" for pap. Many abuse victims cover for their abusers. Codependent families of alcoholics try to take up the slack for the alcoholic and make excuses for them to employers, etc. But most (?) abuse victims tend to stay and tolerate the known evil rather than escape to unknown evils.
So why does Huck decide to run away? Why is he different?
"there was Jackson's Island, standing up out of the middle of the river, big and dark and solid, like a steamboat without any lights"-Ch 7 Simile-like
Metaphor-"the fog comes on little cat feet."
"There was freckled places on the ground where the light sifted down through the leaves, and the freckled places swapped about a little, showing there was a little breeze up there."-Ch 8 Like camping in July-so beautiful

This reader's responses to the text are of three kinds. First, she relates the text to the world around her (observing the similarities and differences between Huck and modern victims of domestic abuse). She relates the text to other things she has read ("The Fog" by Carl Sandburg). And she relates the text to herself and her personal experience (a memory of camping in July).

This reader might later decide to write a paper on domestic abuse issues in Huckleberry Finn, or on Twain's use of figurative language, and she will already have some examples and evidence to support a thesis.

Double-entry journals for vocabulary
A double-entry journal of new or unfamiliar vocabulary words may be used as a study guide:

Vocab journal for Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
"He could no more imagine Leslie chasing a boy than he could imagine Mrs. Double-Chinned Myers shinnying up the flagpole." P. 43
Let's shinny up that tree.
"Later she would refer to Leslie's ‘tacky' clothes. Leslie always wore pants, even to school." P. 45
Tacky=shabby, lacking style
Those are tacky shoes.
"The three of them would roam the playground, grabbing up hopscotch rocks, running through jump ropes, and laughing while second graders screamed." P. 48
Hopscotch=a child's game, hopping through a figure drawn on the ground
The kids were playing hopscotch at recess.

This student recorded the unfamiliar word, the page number, and the sentence he found it in on the left. He then looked up the word in the dictionary, recorded a definition on the right, and used the word in a sentence of his own.

Double-entry journals for textbook notes
Use a double-entry journal to make notes from a textbook, especially if you are squeamish about marking up your books. The physical interaction with the material helps focus you mentally as you read, and you will find that reviewing your journal notes is a more efficient way to study than trying to re-read the text.

Math notes
Circles p. 509


Pi=ratio of circumference to diameter=3.14
Radius=center to edge
Diameter=edge to edge
Circumference=distance around=π x d
Area=π r2





π r2
3D figures p. 517


Coplanar=points & lines in same plane (intersect or parallel)
Skew=not in same plane, no intersect, not parallel
Polyhedron=closed, solid bounded by polygons (Prism, pyramid)
Net=flattened polyhedron
Coplanar=like the intersecting plane where a wall meets the floor, or like intersecting or parallel lines on tabletop


Skew=like ? Completely unrelated lines, points
Net = like origami

Double-entry journals for research
If you do not use note cards for research papers, a double-entry journal created at the start of a project may contain many of the notes, references, and citations you need, as well as your own reflections, ideas, and reactions, things that you may forget if you do not record them promptly.

Stem cell research paper
International Society for Stem Cell Research. Sep. 17, 2004 "stem cell plasticity"=adult stem cells more plastic than previously thought. May even be pluripotent?
Do No Harm. Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. List of current successful therapies all using adult stem cells. There are NO current successful therapies using embryonic cells?!
Swensen, Jean. "Embryonic stem cells help patents, not patients." St. Paul Pioneer Press. Jan. 3. 2006.
Danger of pluripotency: pluripotent growth is "unstable and unpredictable." Corruption possible w/ public monies given to private research w/ no accountability for process or results. Author is quadriplegic!


This student has recorded the basic information she will later need for a works cited page, at least enough so that she could re-trace her steps easily to find missing information.

You can see that a double-entry reading journal is a simple but flexible tool. It can save you time and effort and be the beginning of better things: better comprehension, better written papers, and better test results.

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