Category Archives: short answer responses

Dialectical journals

If you are a high school English teacher, you might know about dialectical journals.  But elementary and lower grade teachers—and parents of younger children—might never have heard of them.  That’s too bad because they are a great alternative to a book report.

Quote word-for-word the text you are analyzing Citation

Q = question

C = Connect

CL = Clarify

P = Predict

R = Reflect

E = Evaluate

Write your response


A dialectical journal is a method of recording information about a book as you read the book.  It requires three types of information:

  • A direct quote of a passage which is worthy of consideration.
  • A one- or two-letter identification of the kind of response the student will make plus the page number or the act, scene and line.
  • The student response.

The response can take many forms.  Suppose the students are reading Lord of the Flies.  A response can ask a question about the text:  Why did Ralph decide on a conch shell to call the children to order?  Why not just whistle?  A response can notice a problem:  All the boys survive the plane crash without injuries while the pilot dies.  That seems unusual.  And items from the plane, like clothes, are not recovered.  A response can draw attention to the plot:  The naval officer arrives just as the boys are about to kill Ralph.  That timing seems unreal.

In using dialectical journals, students should strive to use higher level thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation so that the information can be used to spark class discussions.  Sometimes a response by one student can open the eyes of another without the adult intervening.  If no students are mentioning a concept that the adult thinks is important, the adult can suggest that they keep “tone” or “figures of speech” in mind when they do the next few pages of reading and responding.

By the kinds of responses students make, teachers can gauge what interests or perplexes students about a text and can provide supplementary materials.  If students can write, they can use dialectical journals.   They can be appropriate for students as young as third grade.

Short written responses on tests prove difficult for students

student writing test answerTest questions requiring students to write responses in paragraph form are becoming a standard part of student evaluations. Previously, most written tests, especially at the state level, were composed of multiple choice answers.

This change comes from the Common Core’s requirement for more critical thinking by students. They need to be able to cite evidence, explain their reasoning, summarize a passage, and draw conclusions. They need to use logic and write coherently in complete sentences.

It’s hard, especially for third graders new to this kind of thinking and writing. Here’s why.

  • Students make up evidence from previous reading or life experience, not realizing they must use only the evidence presented in a reading selection.
  • Students offer one piece of evidence when two or three examples are called for.
  • Students forget to include the evidence.
  • Students quote the evidence correctly but fail to connect it to the main idea.
  • Students provide irrelevant details.
  • Students misinterpret what is required of them. If the directions ask students to conclude, they might summarize. If the directions ask students to describe, they might identify.
  • Students do not stick to the point; they go off on tangents.
  • Students write using incomplete or illogical thoughts.
  • Students write around a topic without ever responding directly to the question asked.
  • Students leave out information which they take for granted the reader will know.
  • Students tire or become distracted before they are done writing a response. Their responses seem to stop in the middle of a thought.

Parents and teachers can help students overcome these problems, but it takes practice. We’ll talk about how in coming blogs.