First, finding an effective writing strategy is like hitting the jackpot! Let’s be honest. Writing is HARD. This is what a middle school student will tell you. Finding effective elaboration writing strategies and activities is vital to improve student writing.
Where do my students struggle in their writing? Elaborating and extending their thought process. On a normal day, when I ask my students to elaborate, they will write one sentence. Literally one sentence of elaboration to explain an entire thought or passage. Guh.
Middle school students, in particular, struggle tapping into the critical analysis section of their brain. This is the inference, drawing conclusions, thinking-outside-the-box section. I have tried a variety of methods to teach my students how to elaborate. I FINALLY found one elaboration writing technique that truly, whole-heartily works. It is called the DIALECTICAL JOURNAL. I have easily taken my students’ writing from writing a very general one or two sentences of elaboration to a minimum of three sentences with depth, critical thoughts and ideas, inferences and predictions using this format.
An Effective Writing Strategy-What is the Dialectical Journal?
The dialectical journal writing strategy has been a writing game-changer in my classroom. There are a variety of ways to write a dialectical journal. I modified the format to fit what works best for my middle school students and yields the best results.
In a nutshell, a dialectical journal asks your students to find a passage from their reading selection that is important, meaningful, surprising, emotional, or interesting. It can also be a passage that moves the plot or reveals something about a character; all in all, the students find text from a chapter, short story or text that moves him/her. Your students then respond to the passage with a three-step process-EXPLANATION, IMPORTANCE & INFERENCE/PREDICTION/CONCLUSION.
The Format of a Dialectical Journal
First, your students need to find a passage/quotation/dialogue in their reading. Once they locate the text, they need to cite the text in MLA format. I attached a link for quick MLA format reference, and you can check out the example below (Do your students need more MLA format review? Check out my MLA Citations Escape Room!).
Next, you will instruct your students how to elaborate using three key aspects-an explanation, explaining the importance of the passage and then make a prediction/inference:
The Format of the Journal
EXPLANATION: Your students are going to tell the reader what is happening in the passage. I always tell my students to make believe someone who they are unfamiliar with is reading their writing, and there is a good chance the reader has never read the text before. They need to give as much information as they can to the reader-who is in the passage, and what is happening.
IMPORTANCE: Once they give a sufficient and detailed explanation of the passage, the student then needs to discuss the importance of the passage or quotation. Your students can ask themselves, “Why is this passage significant to the novel/short story/text?” or, “What importance does the passage have on the characters or plot?“.
PREDICTION/REACTION/INFERENCE-In the last part of the journal, your students are to discuss either a prediction/an inference/or draw a conclusion about the passage. Your students can ask themselves, “What does the passage show the reader?”, “Is there any new information or insights the reader learns from this passage?”, “What prediction can be made from the selected passage?”, “What may the reader feel from reading this passage?” or “Make an inference from what is happening in the passage?”. In my dialectical journal worksheet, I included some sentence starters for my struggling students who have difficulty getting their words down on paper; you do not have to include them if you would like to challenge your students more, and think on their own.
Example Dialectical Journal Entries
Here is a model dialectical journal I created for my 7th grade students for The Outsiders:
Here is a dialectical journal one of my 8th graders completed for To Kill a Mockingbird. You will notice my student chose to do a text-to-self connection. You can add text connections (text to text and self) to the options for elaboration:
Incorporating Dialectical Writing into Everyday Writing
Once your students have the experience with the dialectical journals, here is how you can incorporate this format into your students everyday paragraph and essay writing-
When my students write a paragraph, they are expected to write a RACER paragraph- Restate the question, Answer the question, Cite text evidence, Elaborate, Restate topic sentence.
If you look closely, in the dialectical journal they have to CITE text evidence and ELABORATE, both the C and the E in a RACER paragraph. Why can’t their elaboration be a three-part process?–Explanation–>Importance–>Inference/Prediction/Reaction. BAM! Isn’t this fantastic?!?!?
Would you like to try the dialectical journal writing in your own classroom? Click on the link below, make a copy, and edit my version to fit your classroom! Enjoy this wonderful gem.
The Dialectical Journal Format
I guarantee you, you will say at some point, Where has this been all of my life?!?!? Let me know how it works in your classroom! I would love to hear your success stories.
Are you looking for more ELABORATION products? Here are some other products that are in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that can help your students with elaboration!
Teaching Elaboration With Song Lyrics