Annotation: Marking a Text with Purpose

Annotation

For a very long time I struggled with how best to teach students to annotate. I had heard all the advice like, “Tell them they’re having a conversation with the text”. Or “Have them use symbols to show what they were thinking”. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, those did NOT work for me or my students. I had to give them a reason to write things down, otherwise I would just get a bunch of “cool”, “wow”, or “?” markings on the text we were working with.

One day, when I was having my students annotate “The Scarlet Ibis” for all of the mentions of red, I realized that, when they are given a topic to find or a question to answer, they do a heck of a job finding things to annotate. This focuses their energy, and it also makes them actually write things down instead of just underlining and highlighting and calling it annotation (because we all know that is NOT annotation!).

This week, I taught my kids my expectations for annotation using three speeches from The Odyssey. I used this close reading assignment that is free on TPT.   I used the I Do-We Do-You Do model for this one, which is perfect because there are three speeches! I bean by showing speech A on the white board, and I actually annotated it right in front of them, and asked them to copy everything I wrote.

Guidelines for Annotating

Here are my guidelines for annotating in my class: (the complete notes, along with 17 other pages of reference notes are available in my English Resource Folder- Notes for Secondary ELA on TPT)

  1. Always use colored pen to annotate.
  2. Focus your annotation to answer a question or address a topic.
  3. Label your annotations if there is more than one question or topic.
  4. Use the annotations, and the accompanying text evidence, when you answer your questions or write your essay.
  5. Do NOT underline or highlight without writing something to go with it. If you don’t, it doesn’t count as annotating.

For my example, I read the first question, then annotated to answer it. Each annotation for the first question is marked with the #1. Then we read the second question, and then we annotated for the answer to that one. And so on. With a short passage like this, it seemed appropriate to teach them to find their evidence one question at a time. Once they understand this, annotating longer pieces for multiple questions may be easier.

After they have annotated for each question, they must answer using the A.P.E. format (Answer, Prove, Explain). This is where their annotations come in handy because they have already marked their text evidence to prove their answer! Tah-dah!

I use this method with The Odyssey, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, and novels. I just make sure they have a direction, a target at which to aim those annotations. We even do this when we close read film!

I’d love for my readers (all 12 of you) to post some comments about how you teach annotation. Also, let me know if you have questions.

Annotation in Action

The other thing I’m doing is introducing real-world applications of annotation. For example:

  • A server at a restaurant must train and shadow another server before starting to wait tables on their own. In most restaurants, they must also pass a menu test. Shadowing and memorizing the menu would both be good times to make notes. In higher end restaurants, they have to memorize specials every night. This may require keeping notes as well.
  • A field manager for construction, who has to inspect jobs at various stages, would take notes at each stage so that they could write the final report.
  • A farmer will take notes about what they planted, where and when they planted it, what they use to fertilize it, and any unusual weather patterns that arise during the growing. They will also make sure to map out their fields so they can rotate their crops.
  • An actor/actress makes notes on a script about line changes, blocking, and any other personal notes they want to be sure to include in their performance.
  • Doctors make notes in patient files. Sometimes, a doctor will have a scribe that writes down everything they say while they are examining a patient.

These are just a few of the examples that you could share with your students to let them know that annotating is very relevant to them, whether they realize it or not!