• One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.

Reading Journals

This is one of the best things we’ve implemented in programs where I’ve taught for three reasons:

1. It has helped students improve their reading and writing skills, and grammar, and vocabulary.
2. It adds NO EXTRA WORK for teachers.
3. It costs relatively little money.

As most teachers in the field already know, one of the best ways for students to improve their skills is to do more reading.  (See A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More for a detailed example).  However, adding more reading assignments usually means more work for the teacher—in the form of worksheets or quizzes or  feedback in some way—because students need to be held accountable for actually doing the assignments.

Here is the Perfect Solution

This process is meant to be as user friendly for the ESL instructors as possible.  Once a week, students will read for an hour and write a reading journal (RJ).  They turn these in to the instructor, who passes them along to the Reading Journal Reader (RJ Readers).  The RJ Readers reads the journals, writes motivating comments on them, keeps a record of who did theirs, and about four days later, returns them to the instructors’ mailboxes.  The instructors’ only duties are to (1) explain and assign the RJs on the first day of class, (2) pick up the RJs once a week, (3) give them to the reader and (4) return them to the students.  By the end of the term, the student must have completed the required number of RJs.


The purpose of assigning reading journals is to get students to read more for pleasure.  It seems that the more students read at a proper level (i.e. one at which they don’t need to overly use their dictionaries), the more English structures will “sound” correct to them.  This would mean that when editing the papers and essays that they write for their classes, they wouldn’t need to be constantly drawing from the rules, but rather from what begins to sound correct, just as native speakers of any language do.

The type of reading that students can do for their journals is almost anything that they enjoy, for example, novels, newspapers, magazines, and internet sites.  And it can be about almost any topic of interest like politics, current events, sports, fashion, health etc.  (E.g. one student avidly read Harry Potter.)  Students who have got into the habit of doing reading journals have told us that after completing their ESL classes, they continued to read for pleasure on their own.  Some have followed up with other novels written by the same authors whose works they had read for their reading journals.  The sources that they should not use for RJs are textbooks and articles that they are reading for academic courses.

Most students soon discover that, thanks to the comments by the  Reading Journal Readers, this is an enjoyable assignment through which they are also developing their skills.

Suggested format of the journal entries

Each entry include two parts: (1) a brief summary (about a half to one page) of something they had read for an hour. (2) A brief reflection (about a half to one page) in which they write what they found interesting, or their opinion, or any thoughts they had about the passage/article they had read.

Reading Journal Readers


RJ Readers are paid at the tutor rate, which means it’s quite cost effective for programs to hire tutors to do this work. They aren’t necessarily assigned to just one class, but can be the RJ Readers for several sections and/or several different levels.


It typically takes about 7 minutes a student to write comments.  If there are 50 students, it will take the RJ Readers about 6 hours a week.

Writing Comments on the RJs

The purpose of the comments is to show students that their RJs were read and to encourage them in their reading.  The RJ Readers can decide how they want to comment, but below are some typical approaches to this.

  • In the margin next to some sentences, the RJ Readers writes a comment like: “Interesting” “Amazing” “Good summary” “I agree with you” “This is confusing”
  • At the end of the paper, she writes some comment or observations about the entry. (*See samples.) Writing these comments is perhaps the most important part of the RJ Readers’job. The students are very stimulated by these comments and look forward to reading them.
  • The RJ Readers should not mark any grammar on the RJs. Doing that can cause more work for the instructor as students may want to discuss these grammar errors with the instructor.

*If you’d like to see some sample RJs with RJ Readers comments on them, please contact me, and I’ll be happy to email you some.

David Kehe

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