Make Reading Active with Annotation Strategies

February 22, 2017

Annotation is a skill that allows readers to interact and connect with text. It elevates readers from being third-party observers to becoming part of the story, which supports a deeper understanding and improved retention. Instead of simply reading the text, readers who annotate learn to question, analyze, and think critically about the information they are absorbing. In fact, annotation is a key piece in the critical reading and critical thinking puzzle.

But don’t take my word for it. I asked teachers why they teach their students how to annotate, and here’s what they had to say:

“As a first grade teacher, I teach students the very basics of annotations as we learn how to find information within a text. My students are able to find main ideas in their texts and flag things that are confusing or interesting. My goal is for students to monitor what they are reading and search for meaning so that they are actively engaging with the text.” – Sara Rao – 1st Grade Teacher, Fort Atkinson School District, Wisconsin

“I teach third and fourth grade students and note taking is a skill we are constantly working on. It's always difficult for students to know where to begin and what is important to write down. I model a few different note-taking strategies throughout the year and we learn to pause throughout instruction to take notes. I believe this is a skill they will continue to use in elementary school, middle school, high school and higher education and I want to make sure they learn effective strategies for note-taking/annotations early on. I think it’s beneficial because not only will they continue to use this skill, but students are able to process and summarize in words or by drawing a visual representation of what they are learning. My goal is for students to eventually be able to pause and analyze important concepts and information independently.” – Melissa Garcia – 3rd and 4th Grade Teacher, Schaumburg School District 54, Illinois

“I teach annotation as a way to organize thoughts and try to get to the main points of what students have read or heard. Annotation can be challenging, but I feel that it’s a very important skill for them to learn because they use it throughout their education. It allows teachers to monitor student’s learning, check for comprehension, and make sure that students are pulling out key points from the text. It’s also a way for students to reflect on how they are doing with a specific piece of information.” – Heather Fetherston – 4th Grade Teacher, Jefferson School District, Wisconsin

There are many reasons for annotation, but how can you support close reading with specific activities? Don’t worry – I have you covered!

Try this three-part strategy for developing close-reading skills through annotation.

Part 1: Explore new vocabulary

Choose a text that your students will read through. As students read through the text the first time, ask them to highlight unknown words to investigate.

If you’re using a LaunchPacks article, have students use the color-coded “Vocabulary” annotation category. Once the article has been highlighted, the student can switch back to “read” mode and use the double-click dictionary to hear the pronunciation and read the definition.

Part 2: Ensure students are pulling out key concepts

Have students answer teacher-led questions as they read through the text for a second time.

If you’re using a LaunchPacks article, you can add notes into a specific article, or, if you want students to look at multiple texts within a Pack, you can add a note to the entire Pack. With either of these note-adding techniques, your note will carry over into the article view and students can see the questions as they read the text. To add a note to a specific article, click on "Customize" in your LaunchPacks toolbar. Find the article that you want your students to read within the Pack pinboard view and click “Add a note” before going into the article. In your note, type in the questions that you want your students to explore. If you want to add a note to the entire Pack, so students can examine multiple texts, click "Customize" in the main Pack pinboard view and then "Add a Pack note."

As your students read an article for a second time, have them use the color-coded “Evidence” annotation category to highlight the text that provides the answer to your question. Students can type the answer using their own words in the comment box. This allows the teacher to not only check for student comprehension but also to review the student’s ability to supply the new information in their own words. If your students need help, you can model this activity before they get started.

Part 3: Inspire student-led inquiry

Have students follow the inquiry model as they read through the text for a third time and formulate their own questions for further study.

If you’re using a LaunchPacks article, students can use the color-coded “Question” annotation category to highlight text in the article that sparked a question. They can type their question in the comment box.

Note: If you already have access to Britannica LaunchPacks and need a quick refresher on how to annotate, watch this two-minute video.

We’ve used Britannica LaunchPacks: Social Studies in this annotation activity. If you don’t already have access, you can get free access now to 1,600 curriculum-relevant subject Packs that include organized supplemental resources, such as informational text, media, timelines, maps, and primary sources.

Teachers love LaunchPacks for its ability to quickly find trusted resources that support classroom instruction, for its annotation features that allow readers to more deeply engage with text, and for its sharing, differentiated instruction and personalized scheduling capabilities…all within one easy-to-use tool. Give it a try, or use this strategy with your own classroom resources!