Early Learning Digest

7 Strategies for Teaching Students How to Annotate

For many educators, annotation goes hand in hand with developing close reading skills. Annotation more fully engages students and increases reading comprehension strategies, helping students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for literature.

However, it’s also one of the more difficult skills to teach. In order to think critically about a text, students need to learn how to actively engage with the text they’re reading. Annotation provides that immersive experience, and new digital reading technologies not only make annotation easier than ever, but also make it possible for any book, article, or text to be annotated.

Below are seven strategies to help your students master the basics of annotation and become more engaged, closer readers.

1. Teach the Basics of Good Annotation

Help your students understand that annotation is simply the process of thoughtful reading and making notes as they study a text. Start with some basic forms of annotation:

  • highlighting a phrase or sentence and including a comment
  • circling a word that needs defining
  • posing a question when something isn’t fully understood
  • writing a short summary of a key section

Assure them that good annotating will help them concentrate and better understand what they read and better remember their thoughts and ideas when they revisit the text.

2. Model Effective Annotation

One of the most effective ways to teach annotation is to show students your own thought process when annotating a text. Display a sample text and think out loud as you make notes. Show students how you might underline key words or sentences and write comments or questions, and explain what you’re thinking as you go through the reading and annotation process.

Annotation Activity: Project a short, simple text and let students come up and write their own comments and discuss what they’ve written and why. This type of modeling and interaction helps students understand the thought process that critical reading requires.

3. Give Your Students a Reading Checklist

When first teaching students about annotation, you can help shape their critical analysis and active reading strategies by giving them specific things to look for while reading, like a checklist or annotation worksheet for a text. You might have them explain how headings and subheads connect with the text, or have them identify facts that add to their understanding.

4. Provide an Annotation Rubric

When you know what your annotation goals are for your students, it can be useful to develop a simple rubric that defines what high-quality and thoughtful annotation looks like. This provides guidance for your students and makes grading easier for you. You can modify your rubric as goals and students’ needs change over time.

5. Keep It Simple

Especially for younger or struggling readers, help your students develop self-confidence by keeping things simple. Ask them to circle a word they don’t know, look up that word in the dictionary, and write the definition in a comment. They can also write an opinion on a particular section, so there’s no right or wrong answer.

6. Teach Your Students How to Annotate a PDF

Or other digital texts. Most digital reading platforms include a number of tools that make annotation easy. These include highlighters, text comments, sticky notes, mark up tools for underlining, circling, or drawing boxes, and many more. If you don’t have a digital reading platform, you can also teach how to annotate a basic PDF text using simple annotation tools like highlights or comments.

7. Make It Fun!

The more creative you get with annotation, the more engaged your students will be. So have some fun with it!

  • Make a scavenger hunt by listing specific components to identify
  • Color code concepts and have students use multicolored highlighters
  • Use stickers to represent and distinguish the five story elements: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme
  • Choose simple symbols to represent concepts, and let students draw those as illustrated annotations: a magnifying glass could represent clues in the text, a key an important idea, and a heart could indicate a favorite part

Annotation Activity: Create a dice game where students have to find concepts and annotate them based on the number they roll. For example, 1 = Circle and define a word you don’t know, 2 = Underline a main character, 3 = Highlight the setting, etc.

Teaching students how to annotate gives them an invaluable tool for actively engaging with a text. It helps them think more critically, it increases retention, and it instills confidence in their ability to analyze more complex texts.