At our school, we really push students to get comfortable and familiar with the idea of annotating academic text that they’re reading. That’s just one of several reasons why we don’t use standard textbooks much in our English classes, and instead use copied units from Pebble Creek Labs, the Write Institute, or ones developed by local universities. And we always have a lot of post-it notes on hand for when we aren’t using consumables. We encourage students to read text with a pen or highlighter in their hands.

This is why I’m really big on web apps that let you annotate webpages (see Best Applications For Annotating Websites).

This kind of annotation habit is a reminder and strategy for students to interact more meaningfully with the text, and makes follow-up work so much easier (unit projects, studying for tests, etc.). It’s a habit that they’ll find useful for years to come.

Annotation “prompts” include using the typical reading strategies (ask a question, make a connection, visualize by drawing a picture and writing what it is, summarizing, predicting, and agreeing/disagreeing) and highlighting a specifically limited number of words (to help students develop the discipline of not highlighting tons of them). For highlighting, I usually give a certain number of words in a paragraph (three to five) that are either the most important point, or new information, writing they like, descriptive phrases, etc.

Out of curiosity, I asked students in my mainstream ninth grade English class to write a sentence or two during their weekly reflection explaining why they annotate text. I was interested in seeing if they “got it” or if some would say they did it just because it was assigned to do.

Of course, in this kind of situation, students might also respond in the way they believe the teacher wants them to, but I was pleased to see most of their answers. Here are a few examples:

“I don’t know but I think that we do it to improve ourselves around reading and writing.” (Kudos to this student for using the sentence frame displayed prominently on the classroom wall with a “I Don’t Know” crossed out and replaced with “I Don’t Know, But I Think That…”

“I think we spend so much time highlighting so we could be more good readers and understand the text.”

“To understand it better.”

“So we can get used to it and better at using the reading strategies.”

“Maybe because it helps us identify the main points and helps us understand what it’s about.”

“So we remember the lesson for the future.”

Do you encourage annotating text in the classroom? How?