Journal #1 Dialectical Journals

Assignment RUBRIC (scoring guide):

Pick one primary source about the ’68 Riots in DC to write a dialectical journal (explained below). You can use any available image from those on this course page (see course “Files” on the left) or any available text source on the course page. Feel free to expand on the image and text that we looked at on the first day. If you explore the course materials on Canvas you may find material that you’d like to use instead. Just be sure it is a primary source (an original source). An explanation of a dialectical Journal is below. Also be sure to look at the rubric for the assignment (above).

Dialectical Journals

The term “Dialectic” means “the art or practice of arriving at the truth by using conversation involving question and answer.” Think of your dialectical journal as a series of conversations with the source (image or text) observed during this course. The process is meant to help you develop a better understanding of the sources themselves. Use your journal to incorporate your personal responses to the text or image, your ideas about the themes in the course and our class discussions. You will find that it is a useful way to process what you’re reading, prepare yourself for group discussion, and gather textual or visual evidence for your analysis.


  • As you read, choose passages that stand out to you and record them in the left-hand column of a T-chart (ALWAYS include page numbers). If the source is an image, choose people, places, things that stand out and record them in the left-hand column (include the citation).
  • In the right column, write your response to the text/image (ideas/insights, questions, reflections, and comments on each passage).
  • If you choose, you can label your responses using the following codes:
    • (Q) Question – ask about something in the passage that is unclear
    • (C) Connect – make a connection to your life, the world, or another text
    • (P) Predict – anticipate what will occur based on what’s in the passage
    • (CL) Clarify – answer earlier questions or confirm/disaffirm a prediction
    • (R) Reflect – think deeply about what the passage means in a broad sense – not just to the characters in the story. What conclusions can you draw about the world, about human nature, or just the way things work?
    • (E) Evaluate – make a judgment about the character(s), their actions, or what the author is trying to say

Sample Dialectical Journal entry: List of Deaths Positively Established In Connection With the Civil Disturbances in Washington, D.C. April 5-7, 1968

Passages from the text

Comments & Questions

“He states, he had an adult held at bay by gun point and at this time the decedent, Thomas Williams, raced past in front of him, striking his out-stretched hand, which was holding his service revolver. The pistol discharged striking the decedent.” (List of Deaths, entry 1)

(R) I struggle with this explanation. The reason I struggle is that, much like more recent police shootings of unarmed youth, there is a possibility that it happened exactly in this way. On the other hand, there is an equal possibility that the explanation is fabricated. Video has completely changed police accountability. We will never have video of the shooting of Thomas Williams. With that said, video may not have brought more clarity to Williams’ death. A riot is a chaotic event. The officer responsible for the shooting was simply doing his job; at least he didn’t shoot Williams in the back.

I also want to know more about Williams. Was he a good kid or did he have a police record. But I don’t want to know this to show that he deserved to die or anything like that. I want to know because I am curious what kind of fourteen year old would want to be in the thick of a riot with fires and guns and looting and chaos reigning all around. It is sad that a fourteen year old would be impacted by the feelings of desperation of being black in 1968 (or today) in the US, the helplessness that forced all ages to go out and burn down their own neighborhoods in an act of civil disobedience that brought attention to their plight.

Choosing Passages from the Text:

Look for quotes that seem significant, powerful, thought provoking or puzzling. For example, you might record:

  • Effective &/or creative use of stylistic or literary devices
  • Passages that remind you of your own life or something you’ve seen before
  • Structural shifts or turns in the plot
  • A passage that makes you realize something you hadn’t seen before
  • Examples of patterns: recurring images, ideas, colors, symbols or motifs.
  • Passages with confusing language or unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Events you find surprising or confusing
  • Passages that illustrate a particular character or setting

Responding To the Text:

You can respond to the text in a variety of ways. The most important thing to remember is that your observations should be specific and detailed. You can write as much as you want for each entry. You must type your journals.

Basic Responses

  • Raise questions about the beliefs and values implied in the text
  • Give your personal reactions to the passage
  • Discuss the words, ideas, or actions of the author or character(s)
  • Tell what it reminds you of from your own experiences
  • Write about what it makes you think or feel
  • Agree or disagree with a character or the author

Sample Sentence Starters:

I really don’t understand this because…

I really dislike/like this idea because…

I think the author is trying to say that…

This passage reminds me of a time in my life when…

If I were (name of character) at this point I would…

This part doesn’t make sense because…

This character reminds me of (name of person) because…

Higher Level Responses

  • Analyze the text for use of literary devices (tone, structure, style, imagery)
  • Make connections between different characters or events in the text
  • Make connections to a different text (or film, song, etc…)
  • Discuss the words, ideas, or actions of the author or character(s)
  • Consider an event or description from the perspective of a different character
  • Analyze a passage and its relationship to the story as a whole