How to Create Dialectical Journals

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Dialectical journals, used in conjunction with reading materials, such as novels, short stories, textbooks, news articles, make reading more personal and relevant to the reader by sparking the reader's interest and desire to learn, and by helping the reader remember what was read. Dialectical journals are a method of note taking that requires readers to highlight or directly quote passages and then record their emotional responses, opinions and ideas about the passage's meaning. These notes also allow the reader to write personal essays about the material that can be supported by direct quotes.

Divide several pages of notebook paper into three columns. Make the center column very thin and label it "Page Number" or "Chapter / Page Number." Create wide right-hand and left-hand columns. Label the left-hand column "Quotes / Passages" or "Note Taking" and label the right-hand column "Note Making" or "Response."

In the left-hand column, take notes on information and observations, plus any lists, images or descriptions of places and events. Since they are direct quotes, place these notes in quotation marks as a reminder that they were written by someone else. Larger passages can be abbreviated by placing an ellipse (three small dots …) in the middle or at the end of a passage to replace words that have purposely been removed, leaving only the most important parts of the passage.

In the center column, flush right the page number from which the passage was taken. Be sure to flush right the number so that it lines up with the first line of the quoted passage. Also flush right the chapter number directly under the page number to help you remember where the passage occurs in relation to the rest of the story. Note that chapter numbers won't be necessary with news stories, essays or other reading materials that don't have chapters.

Use the right-hand column to record any noticeable themes or symbolism, personal responses and anything significant that the text represents. Also make note of literary devices used by the author such as similes and metaphors, descriptive language or imagery, as well as repetition, plot development and characterization. Explain the significance of the passage, writing down whatever comes to mind without limits. Feel free to interpret what the author may be saying or thinking. Record any reflections and opinions about the passage. Make sure the notes in this column line up with the passage in the left-hand column and the page number in the center column. Draw a line under each entry to divide one passage and its notes from the next entry.

Joan Whetzel has been writing professionally since 1998. She has written juvenile nonfiction, movie and television scripts and adult nonfiction. Her juvenile nonfiction has appeared in such magazines as "Tech Directions," "Connect" and "Class Act." She was part of the production team that produced the documentary "Fuel for Thought" on Houston PBS. She has also written articles for Katy Magazine Online.