With its emphasis on using textual evidence, Common Core has caused a huge push toward annotating.  If you’ve heard of Kelly Gallagher’s Articles of the Week then you’ve heard about Close Reading.   (If you haven’t checked out the AoW, go check them out!  A wonderful FREE resource for topical, non-fiction texts).  Gallagher, and teachers around the country, are trying to encourage their students to do “close-reading,” where they read slowly and pay attention to minute details in the text.  I am a huge supporter of this – I am always trying to get my students to read as both Readers and Writers (see my RaW Journal entry for an easy explanation on this teaching method).  However, one problem I kept running into was this:

  1. I’d tell students to “make notes” or “show evidence of close-reading” or “annotate”
  2. My students would grab a pen and underline a bunch of stuff
  3. The students would have no deeper understanding of the text, just a text with lines

I thought back to my own college experience, and how I had to teach myself how to make meaningful notes and decided to create a cheat-sheet for my students to use to help them understand HOW to annotate.  Below are some of my tips!

Give this to students to help guide them on what to underline
Give this to students to help guide them on what to underline

Underline and Circle…with a purpose!

Underlining a ton of things may look impressive, but truly it is no more than a big waste of time.  Only underline or circle IMPORTANT things – things that contribute to the bigger meaning of the work, or things that stand out to you.

Use Power Verbs

To make sure you are thinking analytically, try to use “power verbs” with your annotations.  This means starting your notes with verbs such as Describes, Argues, Compares, Causes, Proves, Predicts, Justifies etc.  For example, say you are reading the memoir Boy by Roald Dahl where he gets hit with the cane.  Instead of writing “hurts Dahl” (this is an observation) write: “causes Dahl to hate adults” (this is an analysis).

Be Organized

For some people, color-coding is best.   Others like to use left margin for question, right margin for observations.  Still others like to use symbols to annotate clearly.  Find a method that works for you and stick with it.

Write in the margin

It helps to have an example to model for the students

Just because you underline something doesn’t mean you have magically deciphered the author’s meaning of it.  If you underline a new vocabulary word, write it’s meaning in the margin next to it!  Think you’ve figured out the theme?  Jot it down in the margin.   Try not to summarize, but instead focus on analytical reading.  In other words, instead of thinking “what happened” or “what does that mean”  think “why did that happen?” or “why did the author write that?” That being said, summaries can be important and helpful for confusing texts.  In that case, limit your summaries to a few words.

Remind students that the point of annotating is NOT to give them more work, nor to prevent them from connecting to a text as a reader.  Encourage them to think of it as a tool to help decode literature, not a task that simply must get done.

Download a FREE copy of my Annotating Cheat Sheet!