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Using reading response journals in the classroom to engage students about text in a non threatening and EASY way.

Reading Response Journals

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When I first started teaching, I knew I wanted my kiddos to engage with text in a meaningful and purposeful way. Not just a worksheet that went with what we were reading… But a real way for my students to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions as it related to what we were reading. My solution? Reading Response Journals or RRJ as I like to call them.

Reading Response Journals

So many of you have asked about this simple journal! I thought it’s about time I share the ins and outs with you on why, year after year, I still have my students work in their Reading Response Journals or RRJ’s.
The How and Why of Reading Response Journals in the Classroom- one of the easiest and most powerful tool in my student's desks.
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What are Reading Response Journals?


Reading Response Journals
Click here to download the Reading Response Journal cover for free!


Simply put, a Reading Response Journal is a place for students to write, draw, and share their opinions, ideas, or respond to text we have read in class. There’s nothing fancy about these. They are just cheapy spiral notebooks I buy at BTS time for like 15 cents each.

wide ruled spiral notebooks on Target.com
Click here to see these wide ruled spiral notebooks on Target.com

Then, we make a cover and keep them in our desks.  You can grab the cover I use for FREE right here.

But let me set you straight on one thing about our Reading Response Journals…They are NOT an Interactive Notebook

Let me repeat that…

They are NOT an Interactive Notebook
Don’t get me wrong, I “sorta” like using ISNs in math and science. (And by sorta I mean if there wasn’t so much cutting and pasting with trash all over the floor…)  But this notebook is much more casual than that.
  • No table of contents. 
  • No numbered pages. 
  • Rarely are we cutting and pasting into it. 
It is used as a grab and go, a quick write, share my opinion, write a sentence or paragraph, notebook.

How Does it Fit into my Routine?

Well, that is the best part of a Reading Response Journal… it’s a chameleon of journals. We use it for quick writes on a specific topic, or as a place to share our learning from particular unit. But most importantly, it is the place where we WRITE ABOUT TEXT. We use them before reading, during reading, and after reading. We also use them during center time, and sometimes we even use them during Science and Social Studies!

(Read more about how we used our RRJ to improve our sentence writing HERE)

Reading and writing go hand in hand. We expect our students to absorb so much from the text that they are exposed to yet, we rarely give them time to process, sort, or “think through” what they’ve read in a non threatening way. Reading Response Journals bridge the gap between reading a text and writing to the text in a logical and easy way.

How To Use Reading Response Journals in Your Classroom

Here’s a peek at a few ways I’ve used these journals in both second and third grade. (But they’ve also been used in my Kinder and 5th grade rooms!)

For Quick Writes

This is the main reason I started using Reading Response Journals. I wanted a place for students to write down their thoughts quickly… No passing out papers, no big long drawn-out process… just a quick and dirty write-up.

Here, we had just read the story, “Animals Should Definitely NOT Wear Clothing“. This book is perfect for making an inference, but I wanted to engage my kids before we started reading, so I had them tell me why they thought animals shouldn’t wear clothing. This was a simple way to get them thinking without all the hoopla!

The how and why of reading response journals in the classroom- includes free download

Using a Reading Response Journal For Responding to Text

This is by far how we use our notebooks the most. After reading a text (and possibly SNOTS-ing it up!) We’ll use what we’ve read to write about it.

You can read more about this activity here!

Using a Reading Response Journal For Retelling

Our Reading Response Journals are the perfect place for students to retell a story in their own words.


Note Taking


Reading Response journals in the classroom- the most powerful and easiest strategy I've ever implemented. TheAppliciousTeacher.com #reading #readingresponsejournals #readingjournal Since our RRJ are always in our desks, they are the ideal spot for us to take notes that can be used later.
Since one of our main purposes of this journal is to interact with text, I love using it to keep notes of passages or books we’ve read. Here, we took notes on how animals clean themselves based on a book we had read.
Later, we used the chart to compare two of the animals.

As a Reference

I love using our Reading Response Journals as an easy place to make reference sheet for new skills we’re learning!
Here, we were learning about the suffixes -less and -ful. After discussing these two common word parts, we made a quick reference page for when/how to use them and even did some practice!
Here’s another reference sheet we had made for adding -er and -est to words.

Other Content Areas

I LOVE integrating Science and Social Studies into our literature block. It just brings the learning alive! So sometimes our RRJ are used to write about different processes we’ve learned about.
We wrote about why the seasons change during our study of Fall.
During our Moon and Space study, we used our newfound understanding of the moon to write about how the Moon and Earth are different.

We even took some notes on the Constitution after learning more about it on Constitution Day.

How to Grade Reading Response Journals

You know I am the queen of easy. When it comes to grading, I follow the “less is more” mentality. (You can read more about that here)

I’m sure most teachers would say, “Oh I collect their notebooks every week to check and correct every single page we’ve done..” And you know what? Maybe you are that teacher and all I have to say is: ” good for you!”  But for me, the LAST thing I need is another thing to grade or collect!

That’s why checking my student’s Reading Response Journals is always done on the fly. If I am spot-checking their work, I’ll usually just put a star on the page that says, “hey- I saw this”.

If I’m looking for something in particular, as students finish their writings, I’ll go around and check what they’ve written.

Here we had documented how Officer Buckle reacts to different events in the story, “Officer Buckle and Gloria”. A check plus means they’ve got it!


As I check over student’s work, I can easily see who’s met the objective and who still needs coaching. This allows me to reteach and provide immediate feedback as needed. No need to lug home tons of notebooks for review.

Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

I also use the information I can gather from their responses to form my small group lessons later in the week. The class struggled with finding the main idea of a paragraph? Looks like I can cover that in my small group.

Reading Response Journals Done for You!

Want to press the easy button on Reading Response Journals in your classroom? Check out this amazing bundle full of 202 Reading Response Journal Prompts, perfect for implementing this comprehension-building routine in your classroom. 

So, those are the ins and outs of my FAVORITE routine. Do you have your students keep a Reading Response Journal? If so, please tell me what you have them write!


Hi, I'm Leigh.

The Applicious Teacher is all about creating hands-on and engaging lessons that align with the standards while still having time for your life. This is your place for ideas, tips, and resources for the REAL teacher!


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