Structuring a Commonplace Book (Jenny Rallens Method)

There are many different ways to structure a commonplace book, but here I will discuss one of the most popular methods: the “Jenny Rallens Method.” Take the parts you like, and leave out the parts you don’t. Remember, your commonplace book is personal– so keep it that way. This is simply a way to get started if you want a general guide.

Jenny Rallens is a former teacher at a classical school and attended New Saint Andrews College and Oxford University. Many have followed her lead on how to teach commonplacing to students, but unfortunately her original instructional articles have been deleted. The following is based on notes people have taken on her method.

  • Start with a Title Page. This can be something along the lines of “Commonplace Book [Your Name] [Inspirational Quote]” or simply your name. Perhaps the quote could be something like this wisdom from St. Jerome: “…to read without also writing is to sleep.”
  • Optional: Number the pages in the bottom right hand corners (you will only be using the right pages). This will make it easier to find quotes later with the table of contents and index.
  • Skip the first 3-5 pages. 
  • Create a Table of Contents page. This will be filled out with all the books contained within the commonplace book over time.
  • Skip the next 1-3 pages.
  • Create a title page for the first book in the commonplace book and include the full title and author’s full name.
  • On the next page, begin your entries for the first book.
  • Repeat the previous two steps for each book.
  • On the final right-hand page, create an index. This can be used to document all references to a certain theme (mentioned later) or particularly meaningful quotes.

For entries, follow this format:

  • Skip two lines between each quote.
  • Use ellipses to cut out unnecessary parts of the quote.
  • Cite each quote: include at least the page number and character speaking, though it may also be helpful to include the chapter or stanza (depending on the book).
  • Optional: Date the entry. Either write it all out (January 1, 2000) or abbreviate (1.1.00).
  • Tag the entry with brackets. For example, if I wanted to tag the entry with the theme of money I would tag it “[money]”. Tags are normally themes, great ideas, or figures of speech.
  • Optional: Write a reflection on the quote.

Here is an example of how to format an entry (drawn from my old commonplace book):

img_20170204_150107

Let me know what you think of this method! And if you have another method you prefer, please contact me. It could be the subject of the next post 🙂

7 thoughts on “Structuring a Commonplace Book (Jenny Rallens Method)

  1. Hi, Thomas!
    Thank you for your blog.
    It’s a real thing for me because there’s no information on commonplacing on Russian at all.
    I wonder how many pages one should take for a book. It can be run out.

    Like

  2. Oh my! How wonderful to find you and your exciting work to guide and inspire. As a 70 plus year old with a stranger than fiction, fictionalized true story to tell: God sent. Thank you!
    Warmly, Liza-Jane

    Like

  3. Hi, thank you for this incredibly helpful post. I have a quick question: why only use the right hand pages of the book? And why skip so many pages between each book you read?

    Thanks!

    Like

    1. I only use the right hand pages because the pages are pretty thin, so it would be hard to read if I wrote on both sides. I skip a lot of pages in case I want to add more quotes from a book later.

      Like

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