Put It Together to Break it Apart: Creating a Dialectical Journal

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SWBAT determine meanings of words and phrases in a text by developing a dialectical notebook for Othello.

Big Idea

Strengthen your metacognition through talking to the text.

Introduction--Why use a dialectical journal?

It is a policy at my school for each English teacher to use a dialectical journal with at least one text each year.  I like the idea of teaching students to talk to the text. The immediate response to the text can be powerful tool for reflection. Often students get to class and change their minds about something they wrote in the journal based on personal reflection and group discussion.  

The dialectical journal necessitates students to use the text to create questions and inferences. The first Common Core Standard for reading literature asks students to cite textual evidence to support analysis and inferences (CCSS RL 9-10 1). While this is not a focus standard for this unit, true mastery of this standard requires continued repetition.  

Additionally, it is my goal to change my role in the classroom. I want to function more as a facilitator rather than the teacher.  The students should guide our approach to Othello and the aspects of the text that are the focus of  class discussion. I hope the way I set up the journal will lead to stronger leadership from student on discussion topics and questions that drive the discussion (CCSS SL 9-10 1c).  

Let's Get Started--What is Metacognition?

10 minutes

No time to play around today.  As students arrive I ask them to get ready to take notes. I already have placed the handout how to create a Dialectical Journal on the tables.  Before we launch into the journal, I spend some time explaining why it is important to talk to the text.  I have a powerpoint on creating the Dialectical Journal on the Smartboard.  

I introduce metacognition. I give them the following notes and answer any questions student have on the terms.  These notes are on slide two of the powerpoint. 

—What is metacognition? 
      —Metacognition is the monitoring and control of thought
—Why is it important to learning?
—      Metamemory and metacomprehension
—Metamemory:  the ability to know what you can recall (self-insight)
—Metacomprehension: realizing individual ability to comprehend
—Problem solving
—The pursuit of a goal when the path is uncertain
—Critical thinking
—Evaluating ideas for their quality especially judging whether or not the ideas make sense.
By working with the language of Othello students will explore multiple meanings of words and phrases.  They will have to use context and reference books to determine meaning and author's intent (L 9-10. 4).


Building Knowedge: The purpose of a dialectical journal

15 minutes

Now that I have defined metacognition, I ask students what is a dialectical journal.  After listening to their answers I give them this definition from the Dialectical Journal powerpoint:  Â—A Dialectical Journal is a mental conversation with the text.  

Now I want to make a connection between the journal and metacognition. I ask the students, why do you need to write down a mental conversation?  Once they respond, I share the following:

  • —Demonstrates your grasp of the text (metacomprehension)
  • —Shows what you can recall (metamemory)
  • —Provides evidence of working through a text (problem solving)
  • —States an individual’s position on text and provides evidence to support that position (critical thinking)

Next, I ask what do dialectical journals do?  

  • —Summarize and Question
  • —Pose questions (leading to analysis)
  • —State details, images, diction, and other literary elements
  • —Identify patterns
  • —Make connections
  • —Connect purpose and meaning
  • —Create choices about evidence
  • —Document quotes
  • —Make inferences about the text
  • —Justify an assertion about the text
  • —STUDENT Lead discussion of the text


 These goals for the journal help students analyze Shakespeare's choices on how Othello is structured and how he creates tension and suspense in the text (CCSS RL 9-10 5) and develop questions to lead discussion of a variety of topics (CCSS SL 9-10 1c).


Building Knowledge: The Four Sections of the Journal

20 minutes


Now we are on to the nitty-gritty of the journal. The handout, How to create a Dialectical Journal has a detailed examples of how to create the four sections of the journal.  I explain to the students that they are responsible for completing section one and section two for homework.  We will do section three and four in class. 

Section one deals with summarizing, observing and asking questions (CCSS SL 9-10 1c). For each scene students will create a two column journal entry. In the first column, students will write a brief summary of the scene. Knowing that brevity is not their wheelhouse, I tell them no more than six sentences for the summary.  In the second column students write:

  • Note patterns in the language
  • Create three questions
  •  1. Fact based question
  •  2.  Inference based question
  •  3.  Analysis question (Why?)

Last year their English classes should have covered types of questions and Bloom's Taxonomy.  Just in case they forgot, I give them this chart on questions to remind them of the types of questions and why we need ask a variety of questions to extrapolate meaning from a text. Hopefully as the students develop their questioning skills they will see how the structure of the play creates the suspense necessary for the audience to buy into Iago's plan(CCSS RL 9-10 5). 

Section two of the journal is on characterization.  They have to complete a character chart for their assigned character from the character party.  The chart focuses on what the character says and does and what others say about him/her.  Finally they have to make an inference about the character based on the first two columns.  They have to include evidence to support their position.  

What does the character say?

What do other say about him/her?

Inference and Commentary

Context: what is going on?



Quotation (act, scene and page #)


Context: Who said it and what is going on?


Quotation (act, scene and page #)


Based on the evidence, what inference can you make about that character


How or why did this evidence lead you to this inference


 Even though this section focuses on characterization, it also gives students the opportunity to make inferences about what is happening in the plot of the play and how the characters' behavior influences the plot. Students have to have direct textual evidence to support the inference so this section address two Common Core Standards (CCSS RL 9-10 1 and 3).

The third and forth sections of the journal is for in-class activities.  I briefly go over the expectations of the sections and tell students to leave space in their journal to cover literary elements and dichotomy and theme (CCSS RL 9-10 4).  

Applying Knowledge: Creating a Journal for Act I

40 minutes

The class read Act I scene i and ii for homework. The rest of class time is for writing their journal entries for these scenes.  I want them to have the opportunity to ask questions while they write their journals so they will be more successful when they work independently.  

I also tell them they all have to write their own entries but they can consult with their groups on the play and how to write the journal.  I walk around the room monitoring and answering questions about section one and organization of the journal. 

Closing: What's Next?

5 minutes

As the class comes to a close, I remind students they can come to tutoring time for assistance.  Their homework is to read Act I scene iii and complete section one and two or their journal.