Standard Lesson

Exchanging Ideas by Sharing Journals: Interactive Response in the Classroom

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions
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Pairs of students respond to literature alternately in shared journals, responding to group read-alouds, independent reading, literature circles, or any instance that pairs of students are exposed to the same texts. After introducing the concept of literature response journals, the teacher models a basic exchange. Students brainstorm possible generic prompts for their journals, then practice an exchange with their partners. As students begin using the journals, mini-lessons are presented on responding to prompts, creating dialogue, adding drawings, and asking and answering questions. Students can choose their own partners, or partners can be teacher-assigned so that less proficient and more proficient writers can be paired.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Interactive journals are valuable because they motivate students to develop their voices as "active speaker[s] and writer[s]" (303), and this active participation in making meaning of the texts that they encounter leads to deeper comprehension. Furthermore, because of the combination of drawing, writing, and reading, interactive journals are a valuable tool for ELL instruction. Because they allow students to "observe . . . classmates' oral and written interactions around literacy" interactive journals can be used to encourage and support ELL students as they "take more risks with [their] writing topics, content, and skills" (301).

Further Reading

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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




  • Arrange for students to read the same texts. Students may read the texts independently, in literature groups, or as a full class.

  • Arrange for classroom space for the example journals.
    During interactive writing sessions, whenever a new chart paper is needed, post it next to the previous chart to ensure students can see all the writing. If space is limited, each new chart can be posted on top of the previous one. By the end of the lesson sequence, a complete visual model of interactive literature responses will have been created through whole-class interactive writing lessons. As an alternative to chart paper, use the overhead projector, then photocopy and post all pages when the process is complete.
  • If desired, make copies of the templates for students to use in their journals: Sample Journal Text, Drawing, and Mixed pages.

  • Obtain a copy of the picture book My Prairie Year by Brett Harvey for introducing the interactive writing and for examples during the mini-lessons. You can also select a book from the Interactive Journal Suggested Book List, passages from a book that has already been read to or by the class, any picture book with extensive text, or a short novel that is long enough to last at least five or six read-aloud sessions.

  • ELL Note: If working with ELL students, consider rearranging the sessions so students work on drawings with related discussion before progressing to text-only responses.
    The combination of artistic and linguistic expression can help ELL students expand their communication abilities. Additionally, placing the primary response in their drawings can relieve some of the language pressure that these students feel as well as provide openings for useful discussion between students and the teacher.
  • Test the ReadWriteThink Circle Plot Diagram and Book Cover Creator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the Technical Support page.

  • For more information and tips about reading response journals, see Reading Response Journals: Writing After Reading Is Revealing and Reading Response Journals.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • establish a list of reference prompts for responding to literature.

  • respond to literature in response journals, alternately with partner students, to create a dialogue.

  • use references from a text to support their ideas.

  • respond to questions and ideas written by their partner writers.

  • assess their own work and participation.

Session One

  1. Introduce the concept of interactive literature response journals. Explain to students that they will pair up with a partner and respond to literature, alternating comments in a journal that passes between them.

  2. Establish partners for interactive journaling. Paired students should be reading the same title—an assigned reading group selection, a whole-class reading assignment, or an independently selected book.
    ELL Teaching Note: If you are working with ELL students, you can pair speakers of the same home language and allow students to write in that home language to each other. Alternately, you might pair ELL students with native English speakers to draw on the relationship to encourage meaningful communication in English.
  3. Provide enough time for students to make their journals before continuing. Keep the journal format flexible so that students can take ownership of the project, but consider the following guidelines:

    • Journals can be kept in a folder in which to keep ongoing pages to be bound at the end of the project, a three-ring binder, or pronged folders. A binding method that allows students to change the order of pages, add pages, and remove pages as they work on this project is ideal. Journals can be permanently bound at the end of the project if desired.

    • Students should include lined and blank pages in their journals, to allow for both text and drawings.

    • If desired, provide templates for students to use in their journals: Sample Journal Text, Drawing, and Mixed pages. Students can place as many of these pages as they need, in any order they wish, in their journals. A combination of lined and blank spaces will reinforce the idea that drawing and writing will both be used in the journals and will provide a guide for students' writing. Alternately, students can choose and add the pages as needed.

    • Provide copies of the Interactive Journal Self-Assessment and Reflection, which students should include throughout the journal after Session Three is completed.

Session Two

  1. Introduce and discuss the concepts of audience and purpose. Emphasize that their purpose for writing is to share reactions to the text with their partners (their audience). Make sure students understand that the interactive journals will be a way to have a dialogue with a partner student about literature. Assure them that there will be optional prompts used to help with the response process.

  2. Demonstrate the interactive response process. Read aloud the first few pages of My Prairie Year. These pages describe the location and history of a family's emigration and how the narrator feels about the first night in her new home.

  3. Generate a short discussion about the reading. Ask one or two open-ended questions such as the following:

    • What do you know about the main character so far?

    • How would you feel if you were this character?

    • What do you think is going to happen in this story?
  4. Have a student volunteer write a short response to the reading on chart paper with a marker.

  5. When the student is finished, read his or her writing aloud, write a response to the students' thoughts directly under the students' writing, using a different color marker to differentiate the two responses. During interactive writing sessions, the teacher will always use one color, while students will always use the alternate color.

  6. Make sure that what you write addresses something the student has written, perhaps using the words "agree" or "disagree" in your response.

  7. At the end of your response, add a question addressed directly to the first writer. This question is important; it will be referred to in a later mini-lesson.

  8. Review your response with the class. Ask students to identify the audience to whom the question is addressed (the class), then ask what they think the purpose is of asking the question (to generate more responses).

  9. Ask students for suggestions for other responses or questions which could be asked. Keep the chart posted. It will be added to during subsequent mini-lessons. If using overheads, post the overhead on the wall where students can read it later, leaving room for subsequent responses.

  10. Have one student in each pair react to the book they are reading by responding to one of the following prompts in their journal. (Determine who will begin writing in the journals before this session.) The alternate student can read or work on another activity while the first person is writing.

    • What do you know about the main character so far?

    • How would you feel if you were this character?

    • What do you think is going to happen in this story?
  11. Have the second student follow the procedure modeled in class by responding to the first student's writing. Allow enough time for students to write in their journals. Explain to students that they can respond to writing prompts and their partners' writing in words and/or drawings.

  12. Before the next session, review students' journals and make note of any difficulties students have had with the process. At this stage, it's important that the initial journal entry be directly related to the story the students are reading and that the second student addresses something the first student has written.

Session Three

  1. Before this session, gather a list of generic journal prompts on chart paper that students can use during interactive journaling and post the prompts on chart paper or the board. If students in your class speak language other than English, you might make charts of the questions in additional languages. The Sample Literature Response Prompts handout includes the following list of suggested prompts that students can attach to their journals for reference.

    • What does the story remind you of?

    • What kinds of images did you see while you were reading?

    • What do you think will happen next in the story?

    • What do you like most about the main character?

    • What kinds of surprises did the story give you?

    • Compare this story to another story you've read.

    • Compare this main character to yourself or another character.
  2. Review the journaling process with students, and meet with any pairs that had difficulty with the process.

  3. Address any issues that concern all or most of the class. Be sure that students understand the process so far before continuing with the next step.

  4. Share the list of generic journal prompts created before this session begins, or pass out the Sample Literature Response Prompts handout.

  5. Explain to students that these questions are to help them respond to stories they read by bringing their own opinions into the responses.

  6. Point out that these prompts can be used if the students cannot think of issues to write about during the literature response process. Students are not required to choose prompts from the list.

  7. Encourage students to add other prompts to the sheet as they think of them, and post additional questions in a place in the classroom where it can be seen by all students.

Session Four: Dialogue Mini-Lesson

  1. Review the interactive responses on the chart paper from Session Two. Ask students to identify where and how the second response addresses the initial response.

  2. Ask students to identify the audience for the initial literature response, and then the audience for the second response. You will want to have students recognize that the individual responses are not isolated, but that there is a sense of conversation or talking between the two writers. In essence, each student should understand that the audience is his or her partner, and the purpose of interactive writing is to share ideas.

  3. Read aloud the next several pages of My Prairie Year, in which the narrator describes what the family does each day of the week, finishing up with the page about Sundays.

  4. Use the prompt chart to generate some questions. Have students talk in groups or in pairs about possible responses to the selection.

  5. Continuing the two-colored marker strategy, ask a student volunteer to write a response on the chart, using questions from the posted list to structure the response if desired.

  6. Once the student has finished, write your own response on the chart. Try to have your response address an idea or comment from the previous response and address one of the prompts at the same time.

  7. When your response has been written, have students discuss again what might be added on to what you wrote. Ask students to brainstorm several examples of possible response ideas, and choose one student to add a response that talks to the one you wrote. Reemphasize the concepts of audience and dialogue.

  8. Next, select a book that includes dialogue and share one or two examples with the class. (Consult the Interactive Journal Suggested Book List for possible titles.)

  9. Ask students to compare and contrast the dialogue between characters in the story with the dialogue they are exchanging with their partners in their journals. Students should understand that dialogue in a story serves to communicate information about the plot or characters (through characters' words), similar to how partners communicate their feelings and observations about a story in their interactive literature journals. Ask students:

    • In the story, which characters are having a dialogue?

    • What are the characters talking about?

    • How is this dialogue similar to the dialogue about My Prairie Year that the class is recording on the chart?

    • How are the dialogues different?
  10. Have pairs continue writing in their journals, reminding them to respond to their partners' thoughts in their literature responses. It's also important to remind students to refer to the text in their writing by using examples from the story.

  11. Before the next session, review students' journals and make notes about any issues that need to be addressed with individual pairs or the whole class. Again, check to see that initial journal entries relate to the story, that writers are engaging in a dialogue, and that they are writing with an audience in mind.

Session Five: Asking and Answering Questions

  1. Review the journaling process completed thus far, and address any issues with student pairs or the whole class as needed. Be sure that students understand the process before continuing with the next step.

  2. Refer to the response from the Session Two. Underline or highlight the question. Ask students if there is an answer to the question in the next charted response. If there is, underline or highlight it as well. If not, ask for some possible answers to the question.

  3. Ask students to state some common beginnings to questions. List them on the board as students share them. If working with ELL students, you might encourage questions in students' home language as well as in English. Some examples (included on the Sample Literature Response Prompts handout) might be:

    • How did... ?

    • Why would... ?

    • What will... ?

    • I wonder if... ?

    • Do you think... ?
  4. Read the next several pages of My Prairie Year, in which the narrator describes the seasons, ending with the line, "I thought spring would never come."

  5. Ask students to turn to a partner and come up with two or three questions they might ask about this section of the story. If necessary, they can refer to the student-generated list of question beginnings.

  6. After a few minutes of discussion, ask for some examples of possible questions about the story or the character.

  7. Choose one student to write his or her question on the chart.

  8. Respond to the student's question with your own thoughts and add a question of your own.

  9. Ask students to think about answers to your question and have a student volunteer write an answer.

  10. Have pairs continue writing in their journals, reminding them to ask their writing partners some questions in their literature responses.

  11. Before the next session, review students' journals and make notes about any issues that need to be addressed with individual pairs or the whole class.

  12. Again, check to see that initial journal entries relate to the story, that writers are engaging in a dialogue, that they are writing with an audience in mind, and that they are asking specific questions about their partner's writing and the text.

Sessions Six: Adding Drawings to Text

  1. Review the process to this point and meet with students as necessary.

  2. Next, further model how students can include drawings in their journals.

  3. Read the last few pages of My Prairie Year, in which Mother receives art materials in the mail and spring returns.

  4. When you've finished reading, ask students to talk to a partner or in a group about visuals or images that popped up for them while you were reading.

  5. While students talk, start drawing a simple picture on the chart paper under the last response. The picture does not need to be something literally representational of the plot, but rather can be something that makes a connection or provides a visual detail that is not necessarily present in the story. The goal is to transfer a visual image to paper and to help students see that adding a drawing to their writing can enhance their ideas with additional details.

  6. When your drawing is finished, ask students to talk about it, or explain what it means to you.

  7. Add a written description, label, or other annotation alongside the drawing if necessary or desired.

  8. Ask students what else you might have drawn.

  9. Invite a student volunteer to either add to your drawing, add a drawing of his or her own to expand on the same idea, or to add a drawing that is completely different but refers to the same idea in the text.

  10. Talk about these drawings and ask students to think about when a drawing might work better than writing, or when a drawing might help provide more details.

  11. Next, invite students to add small drawings to their writing to help clarify an idea in their journals. Students may want to insert blank sheets of paper or copies of the Journal Drawing Page into their journals if they have not done so previously.
    ELL Teaching Note: As students work, encourage conversation about the images. Use the drawings as a discussion starter that allows pairs to explore vocabulary in their writing. Model discussions of the text as necessary. If students are working in mixed pairs, have them discuss the drawings together before writing responses. This process will allow ELL students to explain the images and add details to their own drawing, and it will give them any new vocabulary needed for their own responses.
  12. Allow students additional time to work on their journals and respond to their partner's writing/drawings.

Ongoing Sessions

  1. Continue interactive journal writing until students have finished reading their selected books.

  2. Read students' journals daily to assess their sense of dialogue. Meet on a rotating basis with student pairs to give personal feedback on their interaction. Use the Interactive Journal Self-Assessment and Reflection handout in these conferences if desired. Have students complete a self assessment on a periodic basis and insert the sheets into their journal. They can go between journal entries, or can be placed together at the beginning or end of journals.

  3. As a final touch, have student pairs decorate the cover of their journal with a theme from their reading. Alternately, they can design a book cover for their journal using the ReadWriteThink Book Cover Creator interactive.


  • Partner students can share their writing with the class by reading aloud selections of their journals, each student reading his or her own responses.

  • As pairs of students finish reading their books, they can work together to create a Circle Plot Diagram.

  • Instead of reading the same book, partner students can read two different books by the same author, or books with related themes, in order to make comparisons of texts.

  • Teach the ReadWriteThink lesson Exploring Literature through Letter-Writing Groups to explore another way to encourage interactions among student readers.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the Teacher Observation Rubric to assess the degree of student participation in whole class lessons/demonstrations and journal writing sessions.

  • Use the Interactive Journal Rubric to assess the quality of student responses in journals, according to the degree of interactive response present and the sense of dialogue established. Note whether or not students used examples from text to support their statements and the variety of prompts used.

  • Have students complete self-assessments and written personal reflections, using the Interactive Journal Self-Assessment and Reflection handout.

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