They’re analytical. They’re argumentative. They’re intriguing. They’re bite-sized. Assertion journals are hands-down my favorite way to teach and assess writing.

Here’s how they work:

  1. Students are given an assertion, usually in the form of a pithy quotation. How much context you want to give your students is totally up to you. I just project the assertion on the board and have students write it at the top of their papers.
  2. Students will read, annotate, and analyze the assertion. In 2-4 sentences, they will explain the meaning of the assertion and note any significant devices used to develop it. It’s a very brief rhetorical analysis. I teach my students that it should function like a shorter rhetorical precis.
  3. In a denser, more developed paragraph, students will take a stance on the assertion and develop it using their own evidence–to use the AP Language and Composition language, their observations, readings, and experience.

Want an example? Here’s an authentic student assertion journal.


What makes them amazing?

Less really is more! When students have to essentially write a mini essay in 300 words, their writing must be precise. They make every word count. They take risks syntactically so they can have a greater rhetorical impact. They implement more focused structures. They expand on a single example with greater depth. In short (see what I did there?), students quit trying to add “fluff” to their writing and get down to the business of effective communication.

Assertion journals are also excellent for teaching writing skills. Need to work on thesis statements? Teach students to write a thesis that defends, qualifies, or challenges a given assertion. Want students to practice organization? Have them apply the organizational structure to the assertion journal. Sick of lame concluding sentences? Help students craft assertion journal conclusions that extend the argument instead of summarizing it; they’ll see the economical value in using that last sentence to say something significant rather than repeating what’s already been said. Syntactical structures, new vocabulary, persuasive appeals–it can all be taught through the assertion journal.

But wait, there’s more! If the point is for students to take a stance, why limit them to writing? Use the assertion journals to spark a class debate. My students sometimes even prepare assertion journals for Socratic Seminars or other graded discussions. We use them for four corners debates and for turn-and-talks. We also use them to connect anchor texts and satellite texts to thematic concepts in each unit. Later this year, my students will even write satirical assertion journals.

I love these things so much, I jumped on the illustrated quotation bandwagon and started curating thematic collections that I designed myself. Here are a few of my favorites:



Did I mention they are ridiculously fast to grade?

Students desperately need opportunities to write every day. They need to think analytically and be able to take a stance. And we need to be able to assess them quickly, accurately, and with a clear focus for powerful feedback. Give assertion journals a try, and watch your students come alive with passion, conviction, and focus!

If you’re interested in checking out my collection of assertion journals, as well as assignment pages, rubrics, annotated examples, and more student examples, you can check out my assertion journal bundle in my TPT store.

Update: I’m SO EXCITED–I just rolled out a new assertion journal bundle! It has ten new topics and a new annotated teacher example. A few of my favorites from this one:

assertion journal content pin.png

ANOTHER, BETTER UPDATE: The third Assertion Journal Bundle is now out, and so is the ever-growing Assertion Journal Bundle: the ultimate bundle of EVERY Assertion Journal, including any and all future assertion journal sets. 


Check it out!

7 thoughts on “How Assertion Journals Can Inspire and Challenge Your Students

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