The Reading Journal: Preparing for an Assessment on Summer Reading
By Gina Bellisario

Summer reading is often part of a high school English curriculum. Many times, incoming freshmen to seniors
will find they are required to read certain novels over their summer break. The purpose of this requirement is
twofold: (1) it helps students strengthen their literacy skills; and (2) it allows English teachers to assess those
skills at the beginning of the school year.
A summer reading assessment is usually given to students within the first week of school. It might be in the
form of a reading comprehension test, Socratic seminar, or even an independent project. Sometimes, it is
graded as a summative, which weighs more heavily on a grade. Therefore, students should aim to do their
best on the assessment. But without a teacher guiding them through their summer reading, how can students
prepare for the assessment that awaits them? The answer is: create a reading journal.
A reading journal is a notebook where students can make notes about the characters and main events of a
story. Eventually, when the time comes to be tested on this information, they can review their notes to prepare
for the assessment.
How to Make a Reading Journal
First, a student needs to decide how many entries her journal will have. For example, if she chooses to read
the novel over two weeks, she will have a total of 14 journal entries. Next, the student must divide her novel
into “daily reading assignments” so that she knows how much text each entry will cover. For example, if she
plans to read a 400-page novel over two weeks, she would divide 400 by 14 days, which comes out to reading
about 28 pages per day.
Each time a daily reading assignment has been completed, the student will write a journal entry that contains
the following information:

  1. A summary of the text. The summary should be a three-sentence (or so) overview of what you read
    that day. It should summarize main events (e.g. The pirate captain discovers the stowaway boy and
    makes him a member of the crew), rather than the details of the event (e.g. The pirate captain hears a
    loud noise, opens the hatch to the lower deck, and finds the boy standing next to a tipped-over treasure
    chest).
  2. A question or an observation. Ask one question or make one observation about a character, an
    action, or the author’s purpose. For example, you may ask why the author chose to make the main
    character elderly instead of youthful.
  3. Two vocabulary words. Choose two vocabulary words that are unfamiliar, and write them down. Be
    sure to also include the definition of each word.
  4. A prediction. Make one prediction about what might happen in the next part of the story. For example,
    you might answer, how will the main character overcome the problem at hand?
    Here is a sample journal entry:
    Daily Reading Assignment (pp. 1-28)
    Summary:

After moving in with his grandfather, Sam finds an old box with snake carvings in the attic. The box opens a
portal to a realm called Scalendia, where he discovers and navigates through wild flora and fauna. He
befriends a girl archer, who saves him from a man-eating plant, and joins her on her quest to find the powerful
Serpent Stone.
Question/Observation:
Why are there carvings of snakes on the box?
Two Vocabulary Words:
whittle – to make small cuts into something such as wood
lore – knowledge that is passed down by word of mouth
Prediction:
The girl archer has a special connection to the stone.
When the final entry is finished, the student can return to her reading journal at any time to prepare for the
summer reading assessment. She can read through the summaries of the daily reading assignments, even
review her observations about characters. In doing so, she will be ready to tackle the assessment ahead.

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