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Modeling Annotation for ELA Students: A Colorful Case Study

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Effective annotation can look so different for different people. We talked last week about different types of projects and challenges to help students develop a style that works for them.

This week I want to take it a step further and talk about some of the different hats annotation can wear. Because even once students have developed a style of annotation that they find helpful, there are different ways to use it.

If I’m annotating a book in preparation for interviewing the author, I annotate differently than if I’m annotating it just to help me remember what’s inside. If I’m annotating a book in preparation for a discussion, that’s going to look different than if I’m annotating it before writing a review of it.

Know what I mean?

So today, let’s quickly walk through four models of how to annotate Langston Hughes’ poem, “Dreams,” which is available online at poets.org. You can make your own copy of a full mini-unit featuring all the slides I’m about to show right here. These models show how a person might annotate the poem differently in preparation for a discussion, in preparation for responding to a specific question, in preparation for writing about the poem, and simply to understand and remember the poem better.

This is a visual post, my friend! So get ready to roll through some images with me.

Model #1: Annotating in Preparation for Discussion

Preparing to discuss this short poem means trying to understand its components and perhaps brainstorming an interesting question for discussion. Taking five minutes to run through this model for students can help them see how a bit of annotation in their reading at home can help them prepare to be far more effective in class discussion the next day. It’s not a checklist, just a demonstration of trying to annotate with discussion in mind.

Model #2: Annotating to prepare to answer a question

Now looking at the same poem, let’s walk students through how they might annotate it to ask a question. For example, “What is the mood of the poem?” Again, the steps I demonstrate below just show my process, one example of how to approach a text with a question in mind. Modeling this for students can help them see how a specific lens can make a difference in how to annotate.

Model #3: Annotating in preparation for Writing

Now let’s take a look at how annotating might help students develop a thesis. So often as they read, they could be developing ideas and gathering evidence for arguments they may want to make later in writing. Of course this is a huge time-saver for them as writers once they get the hang of it. So here’s one example of how that might look.

Model #4: Annotating for Understanding

While annotating specifically for discussion and writing are wonderful, there may be times when students just want to make sure they understand what’s going on and can remember the elements of the reading with a quick scan back through their annotations. This way they’re ready for a variety of situations. Visual annotations and sketchnotes can be helpful strategies for this, so let’s take a look at a model for this situation.

Wrapping Up

These can be effective short examples to share with students as an extension of a larger unit that explores annotation through challenges and memorable projects like we talked about last week. You can spend a few minutes showing a case study, then invite students to try annotating a text for a specific purpose. You’re helping them enrich their annotation toolkit by teaching them not only how to annotate, but how to apply their annotation to the different types of situations most likely to come up for them.

Remember, you can find all the slides here (and a few more, including some related activities) in my Google slide deck. Make your copy right here.

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I'm Betsy

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  • Thank you for this great post and podcast! This inspires me to try out these ideas. I have struggled to find ways to support student annotation, helping them to find a way that works for them. Your ideas are going to be a blast to share with my students.

    I also have had some success by setting up my document camera to stream on my projection screen. I then invite a student who is confident in their annotation techniques to live annotate as I read aloud. Students who struggle with annotations are able to copy what the Live Annotator does. It’s kind of like copying a master artist in order to develop your own skills.

    Afterward, we talk together about what our Live Annotator marked and how. And we discuss what kinds of information they will be able to easily find after having annotated in this way. The students seem to enjoy it, and annotating becomes “cool” when you’re the one in the spotlight!

    • I’m so glad the ideas are helpful to you, Dani! I love your live annotator idea too. Very cool! This would be fun to try with taking sketchnotes as well, maybe on a First Chapter Friday. 🙂


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