Interactive Reading Journals: 10 Creative Prompts to Engage Your ESL Students

Do you wish your students would do more than look at the words on the page when they read?

Of course!

I had this same problem, but now use an amazing tool that will give your students a hands-on experience whenever reading a text.

It’s simple enough that they can do it on their own, plus it’s flexible enough to meet each students’ needs.

What’s this perfect solution? An interactive reading journal.

What Is an Interactive Reading Journal?

An interactive reading journal is a unique way for your students to process what they have read. It’s a notebook, yes, a place to record thoughts, ideas and language learned. But it’s more than that.

A good interactive journal challenges its owner to make personal connections with what they read, to chew up the language they take in and spit it back on the page in interesting and creative ways.

Interactive journals are great for ESL students since they give tangible connections to our abstract friend the English language. If you have never used them in your classroom before, don’t worry. They’re simple, flexible and fun.

Basically, the journal has one or more pages for each story, book, chapter, etc. that a student reads. If you choose a binder for your journals, students can add pages as they create them. Each page can focus on a different aspect of what they have read, stress a different skill or have a different goal.

For a quick rundown on what an interactive reading journal is and how you can use it, check out this video on YouTube.

To get you started using these reading journals in class, here are 10 prompts you can use with your ESL students.

Interactive Reading Journals: 10 Creative Prompts to Engage Your ESL Students


One of the first things we look at when assigning reading material to our students is the vocabulary that comprises it. Here are two pages you could include in your journals that focus on vocabulary.

1. Square meal word analysis

On a blank piece of paper, draw a paper plate—the kind that’s divided into three sections. Label the largest section of the plate “roots.” Label the smaller sections “prefixes” and “suffixes.”

On the bottom of the paper, write out several vocabulary words that are made up of roots, prefixes and suffixes. If your students don’t already know what a prefix and suffix are, review it with them.

If you like, you can also discuss what a functional affix is (ones that change the part of speech, such as –tion and –ly) and content affixes (ones that change the meaning of a word such as anti- and un-).

To complete the page, students cut out the words and then separate the roots, prefixes and suffixes. They then glue the word portions to the correct sections of the plate on the page.

2. Keeping up with the characters

To help your students learn vocabulary as it relates to characters in the story, try this journal page. Make a list of six to twenty words relating to different characters in the text. They can be words from the text, but they don’t have to be.

Instruct your students to cut the words apart and sort them into groups based on the characters in the story. It’s okay if some characters have more words associated with them and others have fewer. It’s also okay if your students sort the words differently than you might, as long as their sorting makes sense in some way.

Have students draw a quick sketch of each character on a blank page or simply write the character names, and then paste the appropriate words under each character’s picture (or name). If you like, let your students draw small pictures next to the vocabulary words to help them remember what they mean.

It’s up to you whether you let your students use the story when they sort words or if you have them do it from memory. Either way, it’s a great way to make connections between those all too common character trait vocabulary words and “real” people—even if those vocabulary words don’t appear in the actual text.


Plot is one of the most important components of fiction (along with characters and setting). Here are two easy ways to get your students interacting with the events that happen in the stories they read.

3. Get stripping

If you have reviewed what plot is, this is an easy do-it-yourself way to process the main events in a story. Have students list between three and twelve of the major plot points in the story they have read. On your journal page, have a blank comic strip. You can find templates here.

Students fill in each square of the comic strip with one of the major events of the story (along with a picture to make it visually appealing). This is a super short way to write a summary of a story, and doesn’t require tons of language to do it effectively.

4. Plot Plotting

You already know your students are learning language in your class, but how do they feel about math? More specifically, how do they feel about graphs?

You may have pointed out the three-act structure that many stories follow–the setup, the conflict and the resolution–but most stories are more complex than that.

To set up your notebook page, draw a graph on the top half of the page. The bottom axis represents the chronology of the story. The side axis represents the level of tension.

On the bottom of the page, students should list the general plot points of the story. After they have listed them in chronological order, they should plot each point’s tension level on the graph, then connect the dots.

They will end up with a clear visual of the up and down tension level throughout the story. And it’s okay if each person plots the tension level different than the others in your class, as long as how they plotted it makes sense.

Getting into Character

These journal pages will help your students really get into the “who” of the characters they read about.

5. Character pie

Have your students cut a circle out of construction paper, and then cut it into even pie pieces—such that the number of pieces equals the number of main characters in the story they have read. For example, a story with three major characters would have a circle divided into three equal pieces. Have your students label each wedge with one character’s name and, if you like, a picture of that character.

On their journal page, students glue down or tape the outer edge of each wedge, keeping the circle intact. Once the wedges are in place, students lift one and write beneath it any important information about that character in the story. They do this for each wedge of the character circle.

6. Open mind portrait

On a blank page, students draw a picture of one character from the neck up. Use a heavy marker to trace the character’s silhouette.

On the back of the page within the silhouette of the character’s picture, students draw pictures of the things that character thinks about or worries about.

7. Venn and me

In a simple Venn diagram, students compare themselves to a character in the story. Prepare your journal page with a Venn diagram–two overlapping circles. Students label one with a character’s name and one with their name.

They then complete the diagram with information about the character and themselves, paying particular attention to the similarities between them.

They should write these qualities in the overlapping area of the circles. Qualities they do not hold in common should go in the outer sections of the circles. If you like, have your students complete a Venn diagram for two or more characters in the story.

Story Analysis

These final three journal pages really get students digging into what they have read by analyzing the story.

8. Double entry pages

This journal page starts with two simple columns. Students label the first column “Quotes” and the second “Reflections.” As students read, they write interesting quotes or quotes that stand out to them from the reading in the first column.

After reading the entire story, students reread the quotes, and in the right column write why they chose each quote and what it means to them—beside the corresponding quote.

9. QAR

The QAR process was developed by Taffy Raphael, and it focuses on the relationship between questions and answers. For this journal page, you will need several comprehension question on the reading passage. Students start by marking each question on the page with a number from one to four. They decide which category each question falls into based on the type of answer it will require.

1. Right there: Answer will be right there in the text.

2. Think and search: Answer is in the story but not all in one place. I will have to search for the parts and put them together.

3. Author and me: Answer combines the author’s ideas and my own.

4. On my own: Answer is not in the book; I have to think to get the answer.

After students have labeled each question, they read the text and then answer the questions.

10. Quick draw pages

These journal pages need no preparation, and they’re simple for students at any level to complete. First, students read the story. Then they take five to ten minutes to draw about the story.

Drawing bypasses language barriers and may let students share more of their ideas. If you like, you can have your students share their picture and a few words about it with the class before putting it into their journal.

Options for Personalization

Not every interactive reading journal has to look the same, nor should it. Here are some options for letting students make their journals truly their own.

Let students choose their own interactive journal pages to make their books their own. Keep a supply of copied pages available in your classroom and let students choose one or more activities when they’re reading a story. They then complete the pages and add them to their notebooks after they finish reading each selection.

Teach your students how to use one type of page and then have them complete it. Then teach another page at another time. Later when it’s time to complete a journal page, students can choose from any of the ones you have taught them.

Interactive reading journals can do more than help your students understand what they are reading. They give your leaners a great sense of achievement at the end of the year when they see just how much they have accomplished.

Your students will have tangible proof of all they have read and learned, and they can see, literally, just how far they have come.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe