Topic Journals are an excellent way to gauge students’ Reading and Writing skills, through in-class writing opportunities. Topic Journals will focus on text-to-theme, as well as text-to-self or text-to-text connections. By providing students with in-class writing time, you will be honouring their efforts, while ensuring you have a strong demonstration of abilities.
English Course Pack: Unit One – Literacy Skills
This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit One: Literacy Skills, which focuses on creating a strong foundational understanding of literacy skills, PEE paragraph writing, and embedding quotations as textual support.
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1.13 – In-Class Writing: Topic Journals
Step One: Explaining Topic Journals
Topic journals should be completed multiple times throughout your course. Some teachers choose to provide monthly opportunities, while others focus on using them once a week. Regardless of how you choose to implement topic journals in your program, you will need to ensure you provide students with a strong understanding of the requirements when you first present this task.
At the back of your classroom, you should have a variety of coloured journals, filled with lined paper. On the front of each journal you will have written a one-word theme. They can include:
You should ensure that there are at least 30% more journals than you have students. For example, if you have 30 students, there should be at least 40 different journals with different themes written on them.
Explain the Connections
The assignment sheet clearly explains the different steps involved in writing a successful topic journal:
- Select a topic journal with a theme that connects to a text you have read during class time. This includes any short stories, articles, as well as texts you have read during personal reading time.
- You will be writing a formal series of paragraphs exploring the presence of the theme in your selected text. You must include specific examples to support your claims (i.e. quotes, selections from the text)
- Once you have explained how the theme is apparent in your selected text, you must connect your ideas to the world, yourself, or another text. Once again, make sure to include specific examples.
At minimum students will be writing two full paragraphs – one that connects a text they have been reading in class to their selected topic. A second that connects their theme to themselves or another text.
Review the Rubrics
Students are free to read the full rubrics. However, the Marking Scheme information on page one breaks that down into bulleted points that may be easier to digest.
Step Two: Allow Students to Select their Journal
At this point there will be a rush to the back of the room as students try to get the journal with the topic they want to write about. In future classes, you will let students know when a topic journal will be written, and many of them will be lining up at your door, early, in order they can grab the one they want before anyone else.
Once students have selected their journals, and returned to their seats they should open the journal to the first blank page and record the following information in the top right corner (likely a box created by the two margin lines):
Students will recognize that these journals will act as living documents that other students can read in following classes, semesters, and years. Ensure students are fully aware of this prior to them writing their possibly-person connection.
Step Three: Write the Topic Journal
At this point, students should have the full period to write their response. There is no “word limit”. They are looking to write one to two full pages – as much as they can, in the time provided. If they finish ten minutes prior to the end of class, encourage them to look back and edit their responses.
Students who “are finished writing” in ten minutes should be reminded that the intent is to use this class as a sustained writing challenge and that they should continue to explore their ideas.
Remember: Students can connect their theme to a text you have selected for them, or a personal choice reading text they have been engaging with throughout your course.
Optionally: For students who prefer to work digitally, they can use the Assignment Sheet which, if completed using Google Docs, will timestamp their writing, so you can still ensure it was completed in class.
Students are aware that digital submissions will still require taking the correct journal, and that responses will be printed out and added to the journal.
Step Four: Submitting the Topic Journal
All students must turn in their topic journal by the end of class. I suggest having a stack of sticky notes near your submission pile, and encouraging students to attach the sticky note to the page they wrote on. This will make finding their response easier.
Step Five: Evaluating the Topic Journal
It is important that you do not write in the topic journals. These living documents are for students only. Descriptive Feedback should be provided on a separate page, or digital note. If you would like to mark up the students’ work, please photocopy their pages and use the copies for that purpose.
By the end of this process, students will have demonstrated strong literacy skills. As this is a one class chance to write and submit, all students will also have provided some evidence of learning. Additional topic journals can replace existing marks as students become more familiar with the tasks, and timelines.
Topic Journals are also effective lesson plans that are meaningful for students, and effective for collecting demonstrations of learning, when you need an emergency lesson for an Occasional Teacher.
As the topic journals will always live at the back of your classroom, and as students will always be aware of how to complete this full period task, you need only tell the supply teacher to spread out the journals, and tell students that it will be a Topic Journal Day.
English – Unit One: Literacy Skills
RICH Reading Log honours Personal Choice Reading. Reading Indenpendent CHallenges is a form a Personal Choice Reading that students engage in during almost every class. … Continue reading 1.17 – RICH Reading Log (English Lesson)
Designing a movie poster requires attention to detail, use of symbols and symbolism, an understanding of how to merge text with visuals, and how to … Continue reading 1.16 – The Movie Poster Assignment (English Lesson)
Movie posters are incredible media texts, because they combine both art theory, and advertising. They can be appreciated as pure visual texts, but also as … Continue reading 1.15 – Movie Posters: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
The Media Triangle is an important tool that students will use to discover the messages and meaning of any text. Rather than simply looking at … Continue reading 1.14 – Teaching the Media Triangle (English Lesson)
The Swan as a Metaphor for Love is a short story written by Amelia Gray and can be found online at Joyland Magazine. It is … Continue reading 1.12 – The Swan as a Metaphor for Love: Short Story – Connecting (English Lesson)
When students connect to text, they build deeper meaning both with the text, and with what they connect it to. By teaching how to make … Continue reading 1.11 – Connecting: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
Building students’ literacy skills by focusing on Determining Importance and Summarizing allows them to read for meaning, and decode in an effective way that leads … Continue reading 1.10 – Determining Importance & Summarizing: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
Taylor Swift is a short story written by Hugh Behm-Steinberg and can be found online at Gulf Coast Magazine. It is a strange story about … Continue reading 1.09 – Taylor Swift: Short Story – Questioning (English Lesson)
The Questioning slide deck follows the same framework that all the literacy skills slide decks do. It starts by asking students what the skill entails, … Continue reading 1.08 – Questioning: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
Terry Bisson’s story, They’re Made Out of Meat, is a perfect way to put inferring into practice. After reading the story aloud, students are asked … Continue reading 1.07 – Made out of Meat – Short Story Visualizing and Inferring (English Lesson)
This slide deck introduces students to the literacy skill, Inferring. It is designed to be moved through slowly, scaffolding an understanding of Inferring for students … Continue reading 1.06 – Inferring: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
The Drawbridge Character Monologue assignment builds upon the now-familiar text that was explored in 1.04 – The Drawbridge: PEE Paragraphs, asking students to consider the … Continue reading 1.05 – The Drawbridge: Character Monologues (English Lesson)
The Drawbridge PEE Paragraph activity brings together all of the learning that has taken place so far. The beginning of the lesson should be run … Continue reading 1.04: The Drawbridge: PEE Paragraphs (English Lesson)
Embedding Quotations is a necessary skill that students will use throughout their years in secondary and post-secondary education. This slide deck introduces the idea of … Continue reading 1.03: Embedding Quotations: Slide Deck (English Lesson)
Alligator River is a short story that will have your class yelling at each other, screaming at each other, becoming enraged at each other. And … Continue reading 1.02: Alligator River (English Lesson)
The Nametag project begins the school year with students creating a piece that visually represents who they are and presents the challenge for them to … Continue reading 1.01: The Nametag Project (English Lesson)
English Course Packs: Full Units
Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry (In Progress)
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)
Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!
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