“The great thing about talking to the text is that it doesn’t talk back!” I tell my students this before they begin learning how to annotate. I get a lot of weird and confused looks from them, but eventually, they also refer to annotating as “talking to the text” and I become less odd (hopefully).
As middle schoolers, it’s important that they not only comprehend text on a knowledge level (think, Bloom’s Taxonomy), but also on a more analytic level. In order to achieve this, I teach students how to annotate, or, “talk to the text.”
I see annotating as a tool students can use when they are striving to close read and understand difficult text. Do students annotate everything they read in my class? No way! I don’t even annotate much of what I read. However, when confronted with a challenging piece of text, especially non-fiction, I usually find myself penning notes in the margin, highlighting important information and coding text with questions.
How to teach annotating to your students:
- Keep it Simple. There are many annotation codes out there, but I start off with 5 basic ones. As students become comfortable with the codes, I add more. Some of my students even ask if they can make up their own codes!
- Model, model, model! The first few times I annotate, I do it along with the students. Under my document camera, I model how I “think-aloud” when reading and creating my annotation. It seems silly, but after many years teaching middle school, I’m not embarrassed or shy!
- Use post-its. On text (like novels) where students can’t write directly on the page, allow them to use post-its to chart their annotations. You can even color-code the post-its (if you’re super organized) and have different colors for each code. I have students keep the post-it annotations in their reading notebook.
- Make codes visible. I have an anchor chart where our 5 basic codes are available for student viewing at all times. If they see the poster every day, my hope is that they will eventually memorize the codes.
Now when I assign my students to annotate a text, they know exactly what to do. I can also tell if they are doing the reading based on the quality of their annotations. Students who neglect to read closely (or at all) will write annotations that are general, such as, “I don’t understand.” I teach my students to be explicit with their annotations, which will help when they get time to discuss the text with each other.
Do your students use annotations? If so, how? Let me know in the comments!