What is one of the best ways for students to learn close reading skills? Annotation. But, how do we avoid the dreaded entire-page-is-highlighted syndrome?

Have no fear, because these easy steps will have your students writing amazing annotations in no time.

What is annotation?

The quick answer is that annotation means taking notes on what you are reading.

But it’s more than simply outlining a chapter or copying events. Annotation also implies that the reader connects and reflects on the topic.

Why is annotation important?

When a person annotates a text, he or she asks questions while reading.

This means the reader is less likely to get distracted, daydream while reading, or read passively.

Additionally, annotation helps us join in discussions, find text evidence, question what we’ve read, and make connections.

How to teach annotation?

Firstly, we have to realize that our students need to be taught how to annotate. We can’t just give them a highlighter and a pack of sticky notes and expect them to know what to do.

The best thing for you to do is model the skill for your students.

But even before that, your students need to know the purpose for the annotation. What are they looking for?

Start with questions

What do you want your students to notice when they annotate?

Here are some questions you can give them to get started:

  • What important events are taking place?
  • What are the plot points of the story?
  • What happens in this section?
  • Who are the characters involved?
  • What important information is the speaker sharing?
  • What new words have I encountered and what do they mean?
  • What happens in each paragraph?
  • Why is the action in this section important to the overall plot?
  • How is the conflict developing?
  • Are there areas you are unsure about?
  • What are the main ideas of this section?
  • Mark the main points so you can write a summary of the selection.
  • What evidence is important in this selection?
  • Are there pieces of background information you need to fully understand?
  • What can you infer from what you’ve read?
  • What are the most important points of the reading?
  • What is important about this selection and how does it relate to other parts?
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Model, model, model

Choose one question and a sample text to model.

While you go through the text, explain your process and show students exactly what you want them to annotate.

There are many ways to do this:

  1. highlight
  2. underline
  3. take notes in the margins
  4. use sticky notes or flags
  5. take notes in a notebook or on a computer

Model the format you want them to use.

Use these questions and tips to teach annotation and close reading to your students.
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Not sure what works best? Try out these bookmarks to help your students focus their reading.

Start simply and build

Remember that this skill is still probably new to your students.

Did anyone teach you how to annotate? I think most of us learned through trial and error.

Give your students one step at a time, one small text at a time, and one technique (like using a highlighter or sticky notes) at a time.

Once students understand the purpose of annotating and can see how it works, their skills will improve.

Don’t forget the “why”

Even if your students are writing the best annotations imaginable, they still need to be able to u.

Give students the opportunity to go back to the annotated text and pull evidence, quotes, inferences, examples, or dialogue that answers a question or is meaningful.

Allow students to use annotated texts to take tests, answer short answer questions, or write essays.

Make annotations an important part of your reading program to help students practice and use their close reading skills.

Once your students understand how annotating effectively can help them, they will naturally get better at close reading.

Check out this video for more on annotation!

With gratitude for all you do,

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