An Introductory Lesson to Annotation
The first time I heard the word “annotate,” I think I was in college. Back in high school, my teachers just told us to “mark up the text.” It’s funny, because I remember all of them telling me to do that, but I don’t recall being told why I should or how it ought to be done.
I’m guessing I’m not alone here, but I’m also hopeful that the practice has become more commonplace since then. (The early oughts were a wild time.) Despite that, I’m sure there are plenty of students who don’t receive much instruction on how to create annotations; they’re just expected to write notes in the margins of their texts and figure things out.
How can we expect them to use such a vital tool without giving them some examples and practice first?
This post serves as an example lesson plan to help get students familiar with annotating.
When I first did this lesson in the classroom, at the time all I had was an overhead projector. If that is the technology you are working with, no problem! However, I’ve since converted things to work best with a computer-integrated classroom, but I’ve kept things variable in this post should your classroom arrangements differ from mine.
First of all, this plan should be scheduled on a day when you’re assigning a new text for homework. This lesson can serve as part of your introduction to that new text and leads into the reading homework after class.
Preparation-wise, you need to copy the first paragraph or first page of the text in a larger-than-normal font with double spacing and print off a copy of this for each of your students plus another copy for each group. If you’re using an overhead projector, I suggest printing the group copies onto transparencies for displaying work on the overhead. If you’re using a computer lab, students can do this through shared documents, and you can show student annotations on the projector. If you’re having trouble finding a quick and easy digital copy of your desired text, we have an extensive library! These pictures show you how the reading customization options work, and you could easily print out screen shots of your text selections or copy and paste the text into a word-processing document.
Ok, prep’s all done. Let’s move on to what to do during class.
The Main Event
Start off the lesson by asking your students what the word “annotation” means for them, and see what kind of feedback you get. Depending on your student population, this greatly varies—even among the same ages and grade levels. You are welcome to explain the word, but the goal here is not to give them too many suggestions about how to do it at this point. Collect ideas on the board or in an easy-to-display location.
Introduce the text you plan to assign for reading homework that night, and share any details about the story and author as you desire. Show the students the selection of text you’re working with for this lesson on the projector, and distribute copies of the text to each student.
Remind them of the ideas about annotations that the class gave earlier, and then ask your students to annotate the text as they normally would and to the best of their knowledge. This might take 5-10 minutes depending on your class or the length of your chosen text.
When students are ready, I suggest placing them into small groups. Depending on the layout of your classroom or computer lab, the numbers of students varies. Try to keep it to a maximum of 4-5 to ensure everyone can participate.
Once they’re in groups, have the students compare their annotated paragraphs. Some questions you could display on the board or projector include the following:
- What kinds of things did you mark in the text? Why did you mark them?
- Did you use any kinds of symbols? Which ones and why?
- What things did your group agree or disagree on annotating? Why did some people annotate one thing and not another?
Nominate one person in each group to act as a scribe, and give the groups some time for discussion. Monitor and assist as needed. This discussion will likely take around 10 minutes depending on the size of your groups and the level of your students.
After they’ve had a chance to talk things over, give the groups a fresh copy of the text, and have them work together to make a group copy of their annotations. This should include input from all group members.
Once this is done, have each group share what they annotated and why with the rest of the class. Add relevant insight to the board or wherever you kept the information from the short discussion at the beginning of class.
After all groups have shared, discuss the different priorities and strategies of the different groups, and use this as an opportunity to point out particularly effective ways of annotating. Feel free to convey whatever wisdom you like; I usually explain how annotations help me keep track of characters and big changes in the plot or serve as reminders to look things up later. Perhaps one of the most useful, and practical, things to tell your students is how a well-annotated text acts as a map of the story’s elements. Having such a map really helps when it’s time for students to write a paper or study for a test.
Store the class’s input on annotations, and use it as a reference for them to have access to in the future. Since they’ve built it themselves, the language that they’ve used will be more accessible and meaningful to them.
For homework, have your students read another section of the selected text. Give them a specific, annotation-related task to go with that night’s reading.
During the following class, you might consider reserving time to discuss your students’ experiences with the annotation homework before diving into the content of the reading itself. Learning how the experience went for them will greatly help you move forward with your future lessons.