Using a dialogue journal and visuals to engage international study abroad students

As short-term study abroad programs grow in popularity internationally, finding ways to build rapport and engage these students in the limited time can pose a challenge for instructors. Opportunities that promote language acquisition, intercultural awareness, and offer a rewarding personal experience require the use of effective tools and pedagogies. Working with international students on a short-term study abroad from Japan, Drs. Roswita Dressler and Greg Tweedie investigated how dialogue journals can help the instructor get to know the students and support their language learning.

Dialogue journals are conversation-style written tasks, often based on connected topics, experiences the students have had, and previous discussions. Being less formal, and focused on language use rather than on accuracy, this approach can lower student anxiety and encourage them to communicate more naturally. The students can express their feelings, reflect on their experiences from outside the classroom, and critically engage with intercultural understanding.

Reading and Responding

As in most journaling tasks, the instructor in this study wrote a prompt, to which the students responded in paragraph form. However, rather than simply moving on to another prompt, the instructor would also add comments, anecdotes, diagrams, and doodles on the students’ responses. The students and instructor could then continue to interact based on these new additions, as well as with the new prompt. These instances engaged the students in discussing different aspects of their sojourn, and provided an opportunity to quickly build rapport with the students. The study was repeated over two years, with two different groups of visiting students.

The researchers found the students were excited to engage with their journals, and to find out what was written in response to them. The journal interactions encouraged the students to go back through their work, to revisit ideas, to ask questions, and to add on to their responses. Since the students had time to think about their response, the students were more comfortable engaging in this format than in spoken English.

The responses were tailored to each student, and based upon the content of their journal entry. In many cases, the students were willing to share ideas that they would not attempt to share aloud, which provided new insights into their experiences and their thoughts about Canadian culture. The students shared thoughts, wonderings, concerns, and insecurities in their writing. The instructor noted that the journals facilitated interactions that can otherwise be difficult to obtain in traditional classroom activities.

In this example, the instructor and the student communicate back and forth over time based on the students’ journal entry. The instructor provides comments, questions, and doodles to facilitate the dialogue.

The research team is currently studying how the use of drawings and visuals added to the journaling process. They want to know if being able to respond with graphics and text allowed the students to elaborate and produce different kinds of responses. They may also encourage them to use their creativity, since they are able to engage with less formal writing styles than they were previously used to. From the instructor side, using visuals may help to elicit further response from students, model language use, and provide feedback and another perspective on the students’ experiences.


See more from Dr. Roswita Dressler on her profile

See more from Dr. Greg Tweedie on his profile


Connected Citations

Dressler, R., & Tweedie, M. G. (2016). Dialogue journals in short-term study abroad: “Today I wrote my mind.” TESOL Journal, 1–29. http://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.254