Simple Annotating Helps Kids Focus on the Text

Simple Annotation

I first heard about this style of annotating when I was in the Beginning Teacher Support Program (BTSA) almost 13 years ago. I have no idea who invented it–if you do, please let me know.

We were asked to read an article about teaching using this system. I remember that it helped my frazzled new-teacher brain focus and understand what I was reading. Now,  I teach it to my seventh graders every year and I also find myself using it whenever I have to read something tedious or difficult.

Guide to Simple Annotation

As you read, write a–

  • √ if you understand or “get” what you just read.
  • ! if you are surprised by what you just read.
  • ? if you have a question or if what you read makes you wonder.

When you finish reading, reread (an essential skill that all of my students need to practice) and choose two or three of your annotations. In the margin, write two or three responses showing what you are thinking.

Here are some ideas of how to write responses:

  • √ = I understand that…
  • ! = I’m surprised that…
  • ? = I have a question about… OR I’m confused about… OR This makes me wonder…

After students have written their responses, they share with a partner and then with the group as a whole. It is in easy way to start a student-led discussion based on the text. The responses also allow me to assess their comprehension and engagement with the text.

I’ve added two additional elements: 1) Before they annotate, I have students skim the text to make predictions about its content. 2) I also have students number the paragraphs. This is useful for class discussions later on and it something I want them to get into the habit of doing.

My colleagues have added to this method by adding more annotations, such as a sideways question mark, meaning “I disagree with the author,” and a squiggle, meaning “I don’t know this word.”

There is no right or wrong way to do this. My goal is to give students a way to stay engaged with a text, even if it is difficult or boring. It works with all kinds of reading, but I usually use it with informational texts. I try to emphasize that students can do this with everything they read for school–as long as it is not in their textbook.

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