Annotation- A Conversation with the Text

Common Core emphasizes close reading, but how do we teach students to do this? In my professional reading and discussion, I have repeatedly learned that annotation is a key strategy. If it is done well, annotation lets students enter into a conversation with the text. To some students this may come naturally, but for many others they need to receive explicit instruction. Unfortunately, I have had students who just highlight entire paragraphs when asked to annotate a text. Sometimes, to help students learn annotation without overwhelming them, I set a purpose for their annotations. For example, when my students read “The Story of an Hour,” I want them to focus on the characterization of the main character. I want them to note how she changes throughout this clever story. Of course there is much more that could be analyzed in the story – symbolism, irony, point of view- but for a developing reader, it may be best for the teacher to provide direction.


Another important strategy is modeling. Teachers may want to do a think aloud to show students their own thinking process when they annotate a text. This helps students “see” what a reader may want to focus on during his or her reading. When I annotate in a think aloud, I demonstrate my thought process. For instance, I star key ideas, showing students that I may look for information that may lead me to predictions or abstract ideas. I circle repeated, important, or unknown words. I may show them that I use context to make meaning of a word or find a definition. Additionally, I write lots of questions. I may even try to answer the questions with my personal reactions or inferences. Because I am teaching students to pay attention to author’s craft, I will also show them my analysis of literary devices. For example, I may identify a rhyme scheme or figurative language. Finally, I will also paraphrase or summarize key sections by writing notes in the margins. Here is an example of a think loud for a paragraph in the story, “The Devil and Tom Walker”:


In addition to the strategies mentioned above, I continually consider new ways to teach annotation. During a recent discussion with a colleague, we considered using emoticons for annotation. We think this may be appealing to our students, making a relevant connection to their use of social media and online communication. Perhaps a student would prefer the use of 😮 to an exclamation point. I’m still working on a lesson for this idea to use in my classroom, but hope to have it ready soon.

Although I’ve given examples from my high school English classroom, annotation is a reading strategy that can be used in any content area. However, a science or social studies teacher may want to adjust the types of notations that students make to better fit the content of the class. For instance, a science colleague of mine asks her students to use equal signs when annotating formulas and arrows for procedure words. What strategies and ideas do you have for teaching annotation? Please share them in the comments!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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