When I taught fifth grade, I would have my students write a weekly reading response letter. These letters were in a journal and were designed to help me understand what my students were thinking as they read. It was not an easy task to get started. However, after a month of practice, I was thrilled with the writing I was receiving from my students. One of my favorite parts was the opportunity to write back to each student. It was time consuming but I felt like it helped us build a better teacher-student relationship. The kids were very excited to read my response to their letters each week. In order to make this task more manageable, I would stagger the days of the week letters were due. Five or six students were expected to turn in their journals each day of the week. My part of the job was to read the letters and write a response each day. I have pulled out my old resources and updated them as needed. I hope you find this to be as successful as I did! My biggest piece of advice is to stick it out past the first few weeks. The time you put into it will be worth it.
Sample Letter I began introducing the journals by sharing sample responses with my students. At the time we were reading A Long Way From Chicago as a read aloud in my class. Because all students were familiar with this book, I thought it was a good book to use in my first response. As I began, I simply shared my letter and elaborated on each section. The second day I shared another sample, but this time I wrote the letter as the kids were watching. I made sure to “think aloud” as I wrote.
After introducing the letter, you might find that some students will need help with writing a summary. If this is the case, you will find graphic organizers to assist you in teaching this skill here: Writing a Simple Summary.
Tell Me Why Anchor Chart One of the most difficult tasks when teaching students how to write good responses is encouraging them to provide evidence for their reactions. We have created an anchor chart of terms that are used when you are trying to explain your feelings. Just in case you would prefer to have this in black and white: Black & White Tell Me Why Anchor Chart This chart can also be added to their response journal as a resource.
Response Ideas Sometimes children need a little help when they begin responding to their reading in writing. “Share a response” is a very broad request. We have created a list of possible response starts. You may choose to share this whole list or narrow it down to three or four choices when you first start. It might be a good idea to have students keep a copy in their response journal. WORD DOCUMENT
Response Bookmarks Give students a bookmark for each response you are requiring. As they are reading, they can mark spots and take notes on these bookmarks. This will make the letter writing easier when the time comes.
Reader’s Log Helper This is an outline you can choose to use or modify for your classroom use. We have provided it as a word document.
Spellchecker This was an easy way for me to get a spelling grade that showed how students were applying their spelling skills. To me it was much more meaningful than looking at how students performed on a list of memorized words. Students were encouraged to use their word walls and other resources when writing their journal letters. Each student had this spellchecker page in their journal and words were added as needed. Here is the WORD DOCUMENT in case you would like to make modifications.
Grading Rubric I am sharing the rubric I used. It will need to be modified to fit the changes you make to your requirements but can be used as a starting point. This is also a Word Document.
Do you do something similar in your classroom? We would love for you to share your ideas below!