Teaching Student Annotation: Constructing Meaning Through Connections

Teaching Student Annotation: Constructing Meaning Through Connections

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
  • Related Resources

Students learn about the purposes and techniques of annotation by examining text closely and critically. They study sample annotations and identify the purposes annotation can serve. Students then practice annotation through a careful reading of a story excerpt, using specific guidelines and writing as many annotations as possible. Students then work in pairs to peer review their annotations, practice using footnotes and PowerPoint to present annotations, and reflect on how creating annotations can change a reader's perspective through personal connection with text.

Featured Resources

  • Making Annotations: A User's Guide : Use this resource guide to help students make connections with text through definition, analysis of author purpose, paraphrasing, personal identification, explaining historical context, and more.

From Theory to Practice

In his English Journal article " I'll Have Mine Annotated, Please: Helping Students Make Connections with Text" Matthew D. Brown expresses a basic truth in English Language Arts instruction: "Reading is one thing, but getting something of value from what we read is another" (73). Brown uses the avenue of personal connection to facilitate the valuable outcomes that can result from reading and interacting with text. He begins with student-centered questions such as, "What were they thinking about as they read? What connections were they making? What questions did they have, and could they find answers to those questions?" (73). Brown's questions lead to providing students with instruction and opportunities that align with the NCTE Principles of Adolescent Literacy Reform: A Policy Research Brief by "link[ing] their personal experiences and their texts, making connections between the students' existing literacy resources and the ones necessary for various disciplines" (5). Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Materials and Technology

  • Copies of "Eleven" by Sandra Cisceros or other text appropriate for the activities in this lesson
  • Colored Pencils
  • Sample Annotation PowerPoint on The Pearl
  • Making Annotations: A User's Guide or one students create after discussion
  • Annotation Sheet
  • Student Sample Annotations from "Eleven"
  • Annotation Peer Review Guide
  • Example Student Brainstorming for Annotation
  • Sample Revised and Published Annotations Using Footnotes


  • Find sample annotated texts to share with your students. Shakespeare's plays work well since many of his texts are annotated.  Red Reader editions published by Discovery Teacher have great user-friendly annotations geared toward young adult readers.  Look for selections that are engaging—ones that offer more than vocabulary definitions and give a variety of annotations beyond explanation and analysis.
  • Alternatively, search Google Books for any text with annotations.  A search for Romeo and Juliet , for example, will bring up numerous versions that can be viewed directly online.
  • While much of the work will be done by students, it is useful to take some time to think about the role of annotations in a text.  You will have students identify the functions of annotations, but it is always helpful if you have your own list of uses of annotations so that you can help guide students in this area of instruction if necessary.
  • Make copies of all necessary handouts.
  • Arrange for students to have access to Internet-connected computers if they will be doing their annotations in an online interactive.
  • Test the Literary Graffiti and Webbing Tool interactives on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • examine and analyze text closely, critically, and carefully.
  • make personal, meaningful connections with text.
  • clearly communicate their ideas about a piece of text through writing, revision, and publication.

Session One

  • Begin the session by asking students if they are familar with the word annotation . Point out the words note and notation as clues to the word's meaning. If students know the word, proceed with the next step. If students are unfamiliar, ask them to determine what the word means by seeing what the texts you pass out in the next step have in common.
  • Pass out a variety of sample texts that use annotations. If you are using Google Books , direct students to texts online to have them examine the annotations that are used.
  • Have the students skim the texts and carefully examine the annotations.  Encourage students to begin to see the variety of ways that an editor of a text uses annotations.
  • Working with a small group of their peers, students should create a list that shows what effective annotations might do.
  • give definitions to difficult and unfamiliar words.
  • give background information, especially explaining customs, traditions, and ways of living that may be unfamiliar to the reader.
  • help explain what is going on in the text.
  • make connections to other texts.
  • point out the use of literary techniques and how they add meaning to the text.
  • can use humor (or other styles that might be quite different from the main text).
  • reveal that the writer of these annotations knows his or her reader well.
  • The process of generating this list should move into a discussion about where these annotations came from—who wrote them and why.  Guide students to think about the person who wrote these ideas, who looked at the text and did more than just read it, and who made a connection with the text.  It is important here that students begin to realize that their understanding of what they have read comes from their interaction with what is on the page.  You may wish to jumpstart the conversation by telling students about connections you make with watching films, as students may be more aware of doing so themselves.
  • touch them emotionally, making them feel happiness as well as sadness.
  • remind them of childhood experiences.
  • teach them something new.
  • change their perspective on an issue.
  • help them see how they can better relate to others around them.
  • help them see the world through someone else's experiences.
  • Before beginning the next lesson, create your Annotation Guide reflecting the different functions of annotation the class discussed today (or use the Sample Annotation Guide ).

Session Two

  • Pass out "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros or any other text appropriate for your students and this activity.
  • Read and discuss the story as needed, but resist spending too much time with the story since the goal of annotation is to get the students to connect with the text in their own ways.
  • Pass out the Sample Annotation Guide or the one the class created and review the various ideas that were generated during the previous session, helping students to begin to think of the various ways that they can begin to connect to the story "Eleven."
  • Pass out the Annotation Sheet and ask the students to choose a particularly memorable section of the story, a section large enough to fill up the lines given to them on the Annotation Sheet .  (NOTE: While you could have the students create annotations in the margins of the entire text, isolating a small portion of the text will make the students' first attempt at annotations less daunting and more manageable. You can also use ReadWriteThink interactives Literary Graffiti or Webbing Tool at this point in the instructional process, replacing or supplementing the Annotation Sheet handout.)
  • Share with students the Student Sample Annotations from "Eleven" and use the opportunity to review the various purposes of annotating and preview directions for the activity.
  • Pass out the colored pencils.  Make sure that students can each use a variety of colors in their annotating.  Sharing pencils among members of a small group works best.
  • Have the students find a word, phrase, or sentence on their Annotation Sheet that is meaningful or significant to them.  Have them lightly color over that word, phrase, or sentence with one of their colored pencils.
  • Students should then draw a line out toward the margin from what they just highlighted on their Annotation Sheet .
  • Now students annotate their selected text.  Using the Sample Annotation Guide , students should write an annotation for the highlighted text.  They can talk about how they feel or discuss what images come to mind or share experiences that they have had.  Any connection with that part of the text should be encouraged at this entry-level stage.
  • Repeat this process several times.  Encourage students to use a variety of annotations from the Sample Annotation Guide .  But, most importantly, encourage them to make as many annotations as possible.
  • What did they get out of writing annotations?
  • What did they learn about the text that they didn't see before?
  • How might this make them better readers?
  • Students should take the time to share these reflections with each other and with the whole class. Collect responses to evaluate levels of engagement and to find any questions or concerns you may need to address.

Session Three

  • Return annotations from the previous session and address any questions or concerns.
  • Explain that, working in pairs, the students will examine each other's annotations and look for ideas that have the potential for further development and revision. 
  • Distribute copies the Annotation Peer Review Guide and explain how it will help them work together to select the best ideas that they have presented in their annotations. Peer review partners should label each annotation, comment on it, and look for several annotations that would benefit from revision and continued thinking.
  • Have each pair narrow down their ideas to the four or five most significant annotations per student.
  • Once this is done, give the students time to start revising and developing their ideas.  Encourage them to elaborate on their ideas by explaining connections more fully, doing basic research to answer questions or find necessary information, or providing whatever other development would be appropriate.
  • Circulate the room to look at what the students have chosen so that you can guide them with their development and writing.  If you see the need to offer more guiding feedback, collecting the annotation revisions during this process may be helpful.

Session Four

  • Once students have revised and developed a few of their annotations on their own, students should begin work toward a final draft.
  • The students exchange their revised annotations.
  • What is one thing that I really liked in this set of annotations?
  • What is one thing that I found confusing, needed more explanation, etc.?
  • If this were my set of annotations, what is one thing that I would change?
  • Encourage students to rely heavily on the Sample Annotation Guide and the Annotation Peer Review Guide to make these comments during the peer review process. They should be looking to see that there are a variety of annotations and that the annotations dig deeper than just surface comments (e.g., definitions) and move toward meaningful personal connections and even literary analysis.
  • Take the original format of the annotation sheet and have the students type up their work using colored text.
  • Teach the students how to footnote, and then have them use this footnoting technique for the final draft of their annotations. See the Sample Student Brainstorming for Annotation and Sample Revised and Published Annotations Using Footnotes on The Great Gatsby . If using Microsoft Word, visit the resource Insert a Footnote or Endnote for information on how to use this feature in Word.
  • Create a PowerPoint in which the first slide is the original text. The phrases are then highlighted in different colors and hyperlinked to other slides in the presentation which contain the annotations. See the Sample Annotation PowerPoint on The Pearl, and visit PowerPoint in the Classroom for tutorials on how to make the best use of PowerPoint functions.
  • What did they learn by doing this activity?
  • How did these annotations change their perspective on the text?
  • In what ways did their thinking change as they worked through the drafting, rewriting, and revising of their annotations?
  • Make sure that students are given time to share these reflections with each other and with the whole class.
  • annotate a whole text, using the margins for annotating
  • use sticky notes in textbooks or novels as a way to annotate larger works
  • use annotations as part of a formal essay to provide personal comments to supplement the analysis they have written.
  • Assessing Cultural Relevance: Exploring Personal Connections to a Text
  • Graffiti Wall: Discussing and Responding to Literature Using Graphics
  • In Literature, Interpretation Is the Thing
  • Literary Scrapbooks Online: An Electronic Reader-Response Project
  • Reader Response in Hypertext: Making Personal Connections to Literature
  • Creative Outlining—From Freewriting to Formalizing

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Review and comment on student reflections after each step of the annotation drafting and revision process.
  • If you use this lesson as an introduction to the idea of annotation, the focus of the assessment should be on the variety of annotations a student makes.  Even so, teachers should be able to observe if students were able to move beyond surface connections (defining words, summarizing the story, and so forth) to deeper connections with the text (personal feelings, relating evens to past experiences, and so forth).  Use an adaptation of the Annotation Peer Review Guide in this process.
  • For those who take this lesson to its completion by having students generate a final published draft, the focus should move from just looking for a variety of annotations to focusing on the quality of the annotations.  By working through the writing process with these annotations, students should have been able to comment meaningfully beyond what they began with in their “rough draft.”  This should be most evident in the reflections students write in response to the process of creating annotations. Again, a modified version of the Annotation Peer Review Guide would be suitable for this evaluative purpose.
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Writing Resources

Lesson plan: annotated bibliographies, english .

To prepare students to write annotated bibliography entries

Total Estimated Time

Work completed before class.

Students have written research proposals and met with a reference librarian to discuss their research. For this class, students have read a critical article on the text we are reading.

There is a PowerPoint presentation that goes along with this lesson plan.

  • Slide 1: Go over the elements of an annotated bibliography entry (5 minutes)
  • Slide 2: Show students a sample annotation and ask them to map out what the author is doing in the entry. (5-10 minutes)
  • Slide 3: Discuss the elements of a good annotation (clear distinction between summary and evaluation; smooth transitions; concise writing). (5-10 minutes)
  • Ask students to work with a partner to write an annotation for the critical article they read for class today. They should discuss the three elements (the article’s subject, its argument, and their evaluation) and then write 1-2 sentences for each. (10 minutes)
  • Slide 4: Ask one pair to write their annotation on the blank slide and have the class discuss. Did everyone agree with their statement of the article’s argument? Their evaluation? Revise together. (10 minutes)
  • Slide 5: For our assignment, students were asked to write full annotations for some entries and one-sentence summaries for others. Show them a sample one-sentence summary and ask students to write their own. If there is time remaining, use the final slide for one or more students to share their sentences.

Lauren Holm and John Plotz

Developed at Brandeis University through a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation

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Faculty Spotlight

Professor John Plotz

"I could not believe how effectively my colleagues had designed classes with a series of linked short writing exercises, culminating in a single longer piece of writing that was almost woven out of those bits and pieces. It's changed how I design both undergraduate and graduate classes."


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