Recurring Lesson

Demonstrating Comprehension Through Journal Writing

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Introduction: 45 minutes; thereafter: 15 minutes per session
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This lesson invites students to demonstrate comprehension by responding to open-ended questions based on the 1939 Newbery Honor chapter book Mr. Popper's Penguins. Students draw from the text and their personal experiences to create written journals. Journal writing allows students to be less formal as they incorporate their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions into responses. Involvement with and relation to a story's characters, setting, and plot also enhance comprehension and promote a deeper understanding of the story. This lesson does not need to be completed on consecutive days but may be incorporated as part of a standard read-aloud session used in the classroom.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Making personal connections helps with comprehension. Teachers can encourage students to make associations between their lives and the characters, setting, feelings, and ideas presented in what they read.

  • Talking, writing, and drawing provide students with the chance to reflect upon and understand what they read.
  • Trade books can provide a medium for teaching reading comprehension strategies.

  • Teachers can combine comprehension strategy instruction with reading and response activities.

  • The following comprehension strategies may be used by students: self-questioning, retelling, writing, summarizing, predicting and verifying, using a story map, assuming a character role, and responding aesthetically.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater (Little, Brown and Co., 1938)




1. To learn more about the benefits of daily journal writing, read the Education World curriculum article Journal Writing Every Day: Teachers Say It Really Works.

2. Read Mr. Popper's Penguins and print the prepared journal questions. Answer at least one question from each chapter so that you can share and model your responses with the class.

3. Print multiple copies of the journal sheet for each student or have students use a notebook to record their journal responses.

4. Review the sample Journal Response and Comprehension Rubric and consider any other requirements that may be relevant for your students.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Listen to a story and respond in writing

  • Learn and use several comprehension strategies including self-questioning, retelling, predicting, summarizing, and assuming the role of a character to respond to questions in journal format

  • Share journal responses orally to stimulate discussion, express opinions, and deepen their understanding of the story

  • Apply their understanding of the story by forming opinions, imagining themselves in a particular situation, or sharing personal experiences

  • Self-assess their writing based on established criteria from a rubric

Instruction and Activities

Mr. Popper's Penguins is a story about a house painter who has always dreamed of visiting the North and South Poles. He was particularly interested in the penguins and received one as a surprise from an Antarctic explorer. The story chronicles Mr. Popper's adventures as a proud penguin owner. The topic of penguins is always a popular one with elementary students. This particular story provides descriptive text, interesting characters, and a main character who finds himself in unique and funny situations. Refer to the booklist for other books that also lend themselves well to journal writing.

Reading comprehension can be assessed in a variety of ways. Students can answer multiple-choice questions, respond to open-ended questions through essay writing, or use diagrams like story maps or charts to demonstrate comprehension. Journal writing can also provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of a story. In addition, journal writing allows students to be less formal as they incorporate their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions into responses. Journal writing for younger students may include pictures and diagrams as well.

Introductory Session

1. Begin the lesson by reading Chapter 1 of Mr. Popper's Penguins aloud to students. As a class, identify, list, and define new words to enhance students' comprehension of the story as needed. (New words from Chapter 1 may include calcimine, whiskers, housewives, famous, absent-minded, regretted, expeditions, authority, and bungalow.)

2. After reading the chapter, explain to the class that during the next few weeks, you will read the entire book aloud and they will respond to questions related to each chapter in a personal journal. Write the five suggested journal response questions for Chapter 1 on the board or flip chart (see journal questions).

3. Involve students in the process of creating a rubric for this journal writing activity. Soliciting suggestions from your students, create journal requirements specific to the abilities of your class (e.g., write 2- to 4-sentence responses and draw a picture for third grade; write 4- to 6-sentence responses for fifth grade). A sample Journal Response and Comprehension Rubric is provided. Prompt students to include the following requirements in their rubric.
  • Write in complete sentences.

  • Include more than one sentence (with pictures if they like).

  • Answer both parts of the question (i.e., the comprehension question and the personal response question).

  • Use words and examples to explain why.

  • Draw from the story and their own personal experiences.

  • Write complete thoughts, but don't be overly concerned with spelling accuracy.
Post the agreed-upon rubric publicly, or type and distribute a copy of the rubric to each student for inclusion in his or her journal.

4. Divide the class into small groups of two to three students, and assign one question to each group. Ask each group to write a group response to the question on the journal sheet handout.

5. Gather the class together and model a journal entry for Chapter 1. Write a class journal entry by combining input from students and your own prepared model. Make sure that the entry uses complete sentences to answer the comprehension and personal response questions posed. A sample response for question #1 is included below.
Mr. Popper was often forgetful. Explain why. Describe something you have forgotten. What happened?
Mr. Popper was forgetful because he was always dreaming about faraway places. He liked to daydream especially about the North and South Poles.

Sometimes I forget my lunch for school because I take too long to get ready in the morning. I like to play with my toys and then I have to hurry to get dressed, eat my breakfast, and catch the bus.
6. Use the sample rubric or the class-generated rubric to critique the model entry. Does it meet the expected requirements?

Additional Sessions

1. Each day, read aloud one chapter from Mr. Popper's Penguins. Ask students to respond individually to one of the journal questions presented and to record the question number in their journals or on their journal sheets. (By referencing the question number, students do not need to rewrite the entire question and you will know which question they have selected.)

Upon reviewing the journal questions, you will note that a few chapters include a prediction question. Read the indicated portion of the chapter and ask students to respond to the question. Share the remaining questions after students have completed their predictions and you have read the entire chapter. In this case, students may have two journal entries for a particular chapter.

2. Continue to coach students during each session by reminding them of the requirements on the class-created journal response and comprehension rubric (e.g., use complete sentences to answer both components of the question.) Tell students to always answer and explain why. Journal responses should almost always include the word "because" within the first or second sentence of the entry. For example, "I think Mr. Popper should sell the penguins because...."

3. Every few days ask a student volunteer to share his or her entry aloud with the class. Journals are typically private, but a comprehension-based journal lends itself well to comments and discussion. Engage students in a dialogue focusing on whether or not they have understood the story well enough to answer the comprehension component correctly. Sharing responses can widen and deepen students' understanding of the text. You can provide the following prompts to lead the discussion:
  • Does the entry contain at least three complete sentences?

  • Does the class agree or disagree with the comprehension response? Why or why not? Where is the evidence from the story? (Have students cite specific sentences, quotes, or incidents in the chapter to support their answers.)

  • How does the personal experience or opinion of another student differ from that of the volunteer?
Note: To help students become familiar with writing and critiquing their entries, you may wish to continue modeling a response on the board for a few subsequent sessions. Make sure that students are comfortable with the activity before you begin to publicly critique an individual student's entry.

4. Each week, select several journals to respond to in writing. Students will love to hear from you!

5. When you have finished reading the book, wrap up the lesson by creating a cohesive paragraph to add to the comments section of BookHive: Mr. Popper's Penguins. Would students recommend this book? What did they like or not like about the story and why? Submit a class entry without providing individual student's names.


  • The newspaper reporters in Mr. Popper's Penguins wrote an article about Captain Cook. Have students write short and interesting articles about themselves. Ask each student to share his or her article with a classmate.

  • Mr. Popper's penguins were selected to advertise Owens Oceanic Shrimp Company because they ate large amounts of shrimp. What products do students frequently use that they could advertise? Have them draw pictures of their advertisements.

  • Have students visit the For Kids section of the New England Aquarium website to see baby penguin pictures. Ask each student to write a journal entry in response to the following prompt: Do the baby penguins look as you expected? Why or why not?

  • Have students learn more about penguins by visiting the Sea World/Busch Gardens website. You can also access and share the comprehensive Penguins Teacher's Guide for Grades 4-8 to learn about the 17 species of penguins. Using this website, can students determine what type of penguin Captain Cook, Greta, and their children might be? (They seem to resemble closely the Adelie penguin of Antarctica because of their white ring eyes and the common black-and-white tuxedo.) This site also offers a Teacher's Guide for Grades K-3.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Collect and review students' journals. Assess written responses for accuracy in answering the comprehension component of each journal question. Do student responses reflect an understanding of the material read aloud in the chapter?

  • Assess students' abilities to make connections between the text and their own experiences as they respond to the personal component of each journal question.

  • Use the sample Journal Response and Comprehension Rubric or the class-generated rubric as a checklist to assess journals and to provide feedback to students. Use the rubric as a basis for discussion and feedback with each student as well.


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