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Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing to Develop Language and Literacy

Describes the teaching method of “dialogue journals” as an interactive, student-centered way for teachers to open channels of communication with their students in a natural context.
J. K. Peyton
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education
Resource Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Skill Level: 
NRS EFL 1--ABE Beginning Literacy
NRS EFL 2--ABE Beginning Basic Education
NRS EFL 3--ABE Intermediate Low
NRS EFL 4--ABE Intermediate High
NRS EFL 1--ESL Literacy
NRS EFL 2--ESL Low Beginning ESL
NRS EFL 3--ESL High Beginning ESL
NRS EFL 4--ESL Low Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 5--ESL High Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 6--Advanced ESL Literacy
Required Training: 



This article describes the teaching method of “dialogue journals” as an interactive, student-centered way for teachers to open channels of communication with their students in a natural context. This non-threatening writing allows students (especially non-native English speakers) to practice writing and reading skills, as they write about their experiences and read their teacher’s responses. Benefits of Dialogue Journals include: Extended contact time with learners Management of classes with learners of varying language, ability, and interest levels Assessment of learner needs and progress Facilitation of language learning The author also cites challenges (correctness of the language, time, and overly personal writing). She provides tips on materials, frequency and length of writing, topics, and appropriate writing partners. The author cites numerous resources on dialogue journals including an online bibliography on research and practice. Critical inquiry is an underlying epistemology. This short article provides a foundation from which practitioners can introduce this language and literacy learning strategy.

What the Experts Say: 

Summary of English Language Acquisition Review Comments:

This resource is clear and very well-organized while still being supported by references in the text. This resource might lead to exploring other ( and perhaps more up-to-date) topics around journal writing such as how teachers calibrate their writing to respond to the lower-level learner or how to reconcile this activity with testing/ progress needs, a reality of ABE today.

Highlights of this resource are:

  • a lot of useful information in a concise Q & A format;
  • the sections on Benefits, Challenges, and Logistics are filled with suggestions for activities that adult education ESL teachers will relate to and find easy to apply in their classrooms;
  • the example of a dialogue journal is included in a text box (Isserlis 1996) that illustrates how the process evolves and what teachers can learn about students;
  • The Writing topics section under the Logistics section offers several workable approaches that expand writing—many of which keep lower-level writers in view. Even an experienced teacher would appreciate ideas like this!

Summary of Writing Review Comments:

This is an interesting and well written paper. Establishing effective methods for teacher-student communication for building language skills is critical and the author does a nice job of illustrating one technique that is widely accepted in the literature.

Further Suggested Resources: (Note: These resources have not been reviewed by LINCS experts)

Bardine, B. (1995). Using writing journals in the adult literacy classroom. Kent, OH: Kent State University.

Cumming, A., & Riazi, A. (2000). Building models of adult second-language writing instruction. Learning and Instruction, 10(1), 55-71.

Larrotta, C. (2009). Journaling in an adult ESL literacy program. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2009(121), 35-44.

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