Rhetoric and Composition
Department Chair:
Laurie McMillin

Phone: (440) 775-6601
Fax: (440) 775-8619

Rice 116
10 N. Professor St.
Oberlin, OH, 44074

Keeping a Reading Journal

Keeping a Reading Journal

NOTE: This is a set of instructions for students on keeping a course reading journal that Jan Cooper has used in past writing courses. She handed it out in the beginning of the semester, then required students to submit entries of the reading journal written about each reading at least 2 days before the reading was discussed by students in class. This enabled her to get a much clearer picture of exactly what students were and were not getting out of their readings and to plan more exactly how to begin discussion of the readings in class.

The advantage of this sort of writing is that it enables students to establish an exploratory dialogue with the teacher at an early stage of their understanding of the readings that can then grow into a more internalized questioning that students develop for themselves. Its limitation is that usually it is restricted to an exchange between student and teacher, failing to encourage studentsß supporting and challenging each other through sharing initial written reactions. Sometimes, however, it can be adapted to the use of listservs or other electronic means of conversation that enable a whole class to write and read in an exploratory fashion for each other.

Feel free to contact Jan Cooper in King 139-D or at x8613 or by email at Jan.Cooper@oberlin.edu for more information on encouraging studentsß analytical reading and writing skills through exploratory reading journal writing.


After you read each selection for this class, I'd like you to sit down and spend at least half an hour talking to me--on paper--about what you've just read. Don't feel you have to come to any hard and fast conclusions; instead think of this as exploratory writing, a chance to record your initial reactions. This should, however, be connected prose. I think you'll find that the very act of putting your ideas into full sentences will make you see more connections and possibilities in the text you've just read than merely jotting down scattered notes does.

If the reading has been very complicated, you may want to begin by summarizing it, in order to sort out the information covered. But you should not stop there. Go on to tell me what you think of what you've read. Try to make sense of it in light of what you've previously known about the subject and what you know about the text in general. Some specific questions you might answer are:

  • What did you not understand? Were there any unfamiliar words or references? What things do you hope will be explained further as you read more or hear more in class? Are you wondering what reactions your classmates have to anything in the reading?
  • What connections to previous reading or information do you see in this material? Does it alter earlier opinions you may have formed? Does it deepen your understanding of the subject?
  • Would you argue with the author on any points? Can you imagine others who would? Do you think the author is ignoring anything vital or misrepresenting reality in any way? Does this seem to be a conscious or unconscious choice?
  • Have you had any personal experience with the subject that makes you see it in a different light? Have you talked with anyone else who has?
  • What seem to be the major concepts key terms in this piece of reading? How important are they likely to be in the course in the long run? How important are they likely to be to people outside of this course or this discipline or this college?

These are just a few of the hundreds of questions you can ask of your reading. The main point of this kind of writing is to use it to examine reading in a more thorough way than most people do when they simply close the covers of a book and go about their business. But also at the same time this should be freer, more creative than the focused, structured essays teachers may usually ask you to write. In this writing it may help sometimes to think of yourself as talking back to the author you've just read.

I'll look forward to seeing what your first reactions are.