Making connections – (Paperless!) Reader response journals in second language classes (Part 2 of 2)

In my previous blog post, I explained the structure of the reading journals my collaboration partner and I are currently using. In Part 2 of the information about reading journals, you will find:

  • how (and why) we started reading journals with our students this year
  • how we model the responses to guide students
  • how students select their own material
  • what authentic French magazines we use
  • how we digitally share these with each other for use in our classes

The kick-off party (how we started this year)

We have used reading journals previously with our students, and introduced them separately in our classes, but this time around we thought we’d make it more of an event. We wanted our students to feel that reading was special, and that this was the start of something big.

Meghann and I decided to combine our two classes for one block, and got permission use the staff room. Imagine two teachers, almost 60 kids, and access to a normally off-limits part of the school… with the added bonus of couches to sit on, the freedom to browse, the challenge of finding a personal connection in a second language publication you have never read before.

We went through our resources that we have collected with funding from our librarian over the past few years, and spread out about 500 different French language magazines on the tables in the staff room for them to select from. We didn’t really need that many, but we had them so we figured we might as well make use of them!

Modeling the response guide

As outlined in my previous post, students were given a handout which gave them step-by-step instructions for how to respond to an authentic text. However, it’s been our experience that just being given the tools doesn’t mean you know how to do the job. Meghann and I both selected two texts which we connected with personally, and wrote sample journal entries. In my entries, I used bold text to highlight words and phrases that were either taken from the vocabulary, or represented things they are currently learning and should remember to include as a way to practice.

We wanted them to choose texts that they connected with on a personal level, and so we modelled that choice in our selections as well. I am a cyclist, and so the texts I chose were related to bikes and cycling (pictured below with the covers of the magazines they come from).

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We started in my classroom (which is next to the staffroom) with both classes (almost 60 kids) at once. We both shared our model responses with students via Twitter so that they could have the Google doc open on their devices while we showed it to them on the screen. While they opened the document, we put it on the screen at the front of the room, and talked briefly about what we had written, explaining what we had highlighted and why. Meghann chose a recipe and a piece about a hedgehog that is an Instagram star.


Our students now have links to these documents that they can use again and again, as necessary, to help guide them through the process.

Making personal selections

Our goal with our choices was to show a variety of genres that students could choose from, and to emphasize that the three most important things they needed to consider in their selection were (1) readability, (2) personal connection, and (3) a cultural connection they could make. Once we had gone through our models, we took both classes into the staffroom, where they were given their choice of around 500 magazines (probably more than they’ve ever encountered in their lives), and they settled in to read a bit.

We have done second language reading journals before with our classes, but there are a couple of key changes this year as a result of BC’s new curriculum. One of the outcomes of our new curriculum is that by the time students are in grade 11/12, they should be self-selecting their reading material. Knowing where they need to be, we deliberately included some ways to teach them how to select appropriate material that they connect with. The other key piece is that students need to make more observations about cultural similarities and differences. We included the ideas of diversity and inclusion, which are strongly connected to the fact that we are in a very multicultural community.

Once students selected their text, they took a picture of it, uploaded it to their FreshGrade portfolio, and began writing their journals. The journals were all done in a Google doc as well. We made a blank journal entry that they could use as a template, making the whole process paperless (except for the magazines, of course!). These could easily be done on paper too, but we are working with a paperless model, at least for now.

The magazine titles

We have tried to put together a collection of magazines that will appeal to a broad range of ability levels, interests and ages. Here are the magazines we currently have:

  • Youpi – great for beginning readers. Focuses on stories.
  • Pomme d’Api – great for beginning readers. Includes some short stories with lots of pictures.
  • Les Explorateurs – works well for students at the end of grade 8 or grades 9-10. Includes a range of content about science, outdoors, technology, etc.
  • Astrapi – includes a lot of high interest articles for kids, including things they can make, information about wellness, handling stress in school, etc.
  • Débrouillards – includes a variety of material, including games, comics, articles, science, sports and the arts. And as a bonus… free downloadable teacher resources!
  • GéoAdo – a fantastic resource for students in grades 9-12. Includes a wide range of information on news, travel, various cultures around the world, and features some gorgeous photography that really captures kids’ attention.
  • Okapi – a general interest magazine intended for Francophone teens ages 9-13. A great way for second language students to learn what their peers in Francophone regions think, do and are interested in. Can lead to more in depth cultural comparisons.
  • Moi je lis – longer form reading for junior high students.
  • J’aime lire – includes longer form stories. Available in formats appropriate for younger kids, a mid-level range that works well for junior high students, and a higher level (J’aime lire Max) for older readers.
  • Curium – a magazine focusing on technology, science and society. Definitely for older kids, and I’d recommend previewing content before sharing it but I’ve used some really thought provoking material from this magazine.

How we share texts digitally

First of all, just to be clear, we do not distribute the texts digitally. With over 500 individual issues of at least 9 different publications, it’s impossible to keep track of everything without some sort of organizational tool. We use shared folders on Google Drive, which we have organized into folders sorted by genre. We use an app called ScannerPro, which allows us to take pictures of an article with our phones, turn it into a PDF, and upload it to our Google Drive. Once a text is in the drive, we can display it on the projectors in our classrooms while students write their responses.

So what’s the end goal?

We try to expose students to as wide a range of genres as possible over the duration of a semester or year-long course. We also vary the topics, the types of visual supports included, and the various cultures featured from across la Francophonie. When they get to the end of the course, we ask them to reread what they wrote and revisit their observations of what they have learned about French culture. They summarize this in a final comparison of the similarities and differences between their culture and Francophone culture.

They also gain reading skills. They realize that there are things they know about various genres from having read them in their first language that they can bring to the table to help decode a second language article before they even read a word of it. In 10 minutes of reading (almost) every class, they improve noticeably with a range of high interest, constantly changing texts. None of this is made for a text book or adapted for kids to make it easier, and students also love that it’s real. The fact that these are authentic texts gives them a genuine sense of accomplishment that they have learned how to do something that they can walk out of our classrooms and continue to do on their own in the real world.



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