Listen, I am tired of my students turning in yellow papers after I’ve asked them to annotate. Not to mention kids who stare blankly at me when I even mention annotation.
And I know for a fact that I am not the only one. For years, I would sigh when I would get papers with entire paragraphs highlighted in yellow after I’d ask them to annotate (even my husband does it). I learned I needed to guide my students through why we annotate, how it can benefit them now and in the real world, and how we can annotate effectively.
Understanding the Importance of Annotation
Annotation isn’t just a classroom exercise; it’s a lifelong skill. It fosters active reading, helping students to not only understand but also to interact with texts in a meaningful way. This skill cultivates a deeper, more critical approach to reading, essential for their academic and future professional lives.
Starting with the Basics
- Defining Annotation: Begin with a clear definition of annotation. It’s about making notes, asking questions, and connecting ideas in the margins of a text.
- Tools of the Trade: Equip students with colored highlighters, sticky notes, pencils, and digital tools if available.
I like to explain what annotation is with a presentation linked to guided notes. This helps capture students who might be worried about admitting they don’t know. This way everyone gets one definition from you and they start with a baseline.
Strategies for Effective Annotation
I know what you’re thinking. “But how do I teach annotation?” I got you. Over the years I have figured out a few tricks. Many of these you might already be doing!
- Modeling Annotation: Show your annotation process using a document camera or interactive whiteboard. I like to narrate I go. For example, as I am reading a poem, I might stop at a word and ask someone to define a word with Siri because “I don’t know” what it means.
- Purposeful Annotation: Encourage students to annotate with specific goals, such as identifying themes or character development. This is on of the best tools to get students to stop highlighting the whole text. It helps them ask themselves “does this piece actually contribute to my goal? Or am I just highlighting because my teacher told me to?”
- Annotation Symbols: Create a set of symbols or codes for common annotations to streamline the process. I find a lot of the time students worry about what looks right to the teacher. If you provide them with a key for annotation, then that removes that mental obstacle.
- Text-Dependent Questions: Guide students’ annotations with specific, text-related questions. This is a great strategy for test-taking, and one that I teach my kids explicitly and reinforce as we approach our standardized test at the end of the year.
- Collaborative Annotation: Foster group interaction through shared annotation activities. There’s nothing wrong with looking at each other’s paper to discuss what a peer annotated. This is often one of my favorite things to do…when student’s do it right. Make sure to emphasize to students that the goal isn’t identical papers, but to discuss ideas in context.
- Annotating Different Text Types: Teach students to annotate various texts, adapting their approach for different genres. My student’s tend to struggle with annotating poems, but I also make sure they practice annotating nonfiction as well!
- Digital Annotation: Utilize digital platforms for a modern twist on annotation. Drop your assignment in Kami, or upload it onto a Google slide. Let students drop GIF reactions to the text and expand on their thinking. You can even use something like my Gif Dialectical Journal to help students along.
When I am introducing annotation for the first time to a class, I like to introduce a spoken word poem with a transcript. It takes away the pressure to read, and students can easily infer tone based on the poet’s performance. This takes away some of the initial nerves students get when approaching a text.
You can find really great slam poems from the Button Poetry YouTube Channel. I like to grab poems that speak to who my students are. A few good ones include:
- Rudy Francisco’s “Hide and Seek”
- Emi Mahmoud’s “People Like Us”
- Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother”
- Miya Colema’s “God is a Black Woman”
Engaging Activities to Practice Annotation
- Annotation Stations: Create stations with different texts and annotation tasks.
- Annotation Gallery Walk: Conduct a walk for students to observe and learn from each other’s annotations.
- Role-Based Annotation: Assign roles like summarizer or questioner for focused annotation.
- Annotation Jigsaw: In groups, students annotate different parts of a text and then combine their insights.
- Reflective Annotation: Encourage students to write reflections on how their annotations enhanced their understanding.
Connecting Annotation to the Real World
So who annotates?
Well it isn’t just English teachers, that’s for sure!
In the real world, annotation is a skill used by professionals across various fields. Lawyers annotate legal documents to highlight key arguments, while doctors may annotate medical research to track important findings. Journalists, researchers, and even everyday readers use annotation to engage with texts deeply. Understanding this real-world application can motivate students to see annotation as a relevant, valuable skill beyond the classroom.
In all professions, you will find annotation. Whether its a supervisor going through your work and asking for revisions or just annotating your own work to document your thought process for a team, annotation is not a skill that stays in high school.
From Annotations to Analytical Writing
One of the most exciting aspects of teaching annotation is showing students how to turn their annotations into analytical paragraphs and essays.
- Identifying Key Themes: Encourage students to use their annotations to identify central themes or arguments in the text.
- Organizing Thoughts: Teach students to organize their annotated notes, grouping similar ideas or arguments together. This forms the basis for structured paragraphs.
- Developing a Thesis Statement: Help students craft a thesis statement based on their annotated insights. I like to use thesis frames for students who are struggling.
- Creating an Outline: Use annotations to create an essay outline, ensuring each point is backed by textual evidence.
- Drafting the Essay: Guide students in transforming their organized annotations into well-structured analytical essays, emphasizing clarity, coherence, and depth of analysis.
Teaching annotation equips students with a critical skill that transcends the classroom. It prepares them for the academic challenges ahead and professional life, where annotation continues to be a valuable tool. Let’s empower our students to engage in thoughtful, meaningful conversations with texts, fostering a lifelong love for reading and critical thinking.