Critical Reading Journals

In order to help improve how you critically look at a piece of literature you will be required to keep a reading journal for this course. The journal can be a spiral notebook or a composition notebook. You are not allowed to type these because I want you to have them with you where ever you read. Entries must be completed in blue or black ink and in a specific format. Any other ink or format will lower your grade.

These journals will be periodically collected, read, and graded. You will also use them for essay topics and as a way to study for the various tests throughout the course. You are required to bring them to class with you every day because we might share entries, use them as part of a discussion, or you will be given time to write in them. You will be required to write at least two entries per week.


  • On the front of the journal legibly write your full name.
  • Begin each new entry on a fresh page.
  • In the top right hand corner put the number of your entry.
  • On the first three lines of the left hand side, hugging the margin, head your paper in the following manner:
    • Title of literature – notated properly (underlined for longer texts and in quote marks for poetry and short stories)
    • Date
    • Topic – see list below for acceptable topics.
  • Skip a line, indent and begin writing. Since this is a journal, the language can be informal, but must be in complete sentences. It will not be graded for grammar, spelling, and proofreading.
  • Each entry must be at least a half page in length.
  • I want you to use both sides of the page, so start your next entry on the back of the page.


This is not a complete list of potential topics, just a list of suggestions. Remember that you are reading critically; if there is something that jumps off of the page that does not fit this list, go with it. You might surprise yourself. You are NEVER allowed to just summarize the plot of the piece of literature.

  • Pick a quote – Write the quote that interests you and write it in your journal. Why is it important? What does it add to the piece of literature? Why did it stand out to you? What does it foreshadow?
  • Imagery and Symbolism – Describe an image from the piece of literature in detail. Why does this image strike you? Why is it important or significant? How does it add to the text? What does this image symbolize? Why?
  • Style and Rhetorical Devices – Look at the tone, use of metaphor, simile, allusions, point of view, allegory, motifs, etc. How do they enhance the meaning? Why do you think the author placed them in this particular location? How would the meaning of the text change without this device?
  • Setting and Mood – Describe a scene in which the setting and mood are particularly effective. What language made them effective? Be specific.
  • Connections – How did the piece of literature make you speculate about life or find a connection to another text or academic discipline? This can be personal and relate to your own life as well.
  • Theme – What themes pop out of the text? Why is this important? How does it connect to the rest of the text or what is currently taking place?
  • Feelings – How does the text make you feel – in the heart, in the spirit, in the mind, on the senses? Why? What windows or doors does it open for you? Why? Does it close anything down for you? What makes this text unique? Why?
  • Philosophy – What philosophical issues does the work raise (questions about goodness, truth, beauty, justice, humanity, love, meaning, life, death and God)? Why?
  • Title – What is the relationship of the title to the content of the piece of literature? Give examples and fully explain why you feel this way.
  • Surprised or Puzzled? – Is there something that surprises you does not appear to fit in the text? Explain why you feel this way. Discuss why something doesn’t make sense to you or why your views might be different from the authors intended purpose.
  • Picture or Word – Find a picture or a word that connects with the text. If it is a picture, paste it onto that page of your journal. Why does this fit with the text? Why did it stand out to you? Why is it important?
  • Characterization – Why is this character important? Are they the protagonist or antagonist? Why? What do they add to the text? Describe the character in detail.
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