Annotation: a note by way of explanation or comment added to a text or diagram

The reason why many of us decided to become a secondary teacher is due to the love we have for our subject area. In English we want to share and appreciate the language used in fantasy stories, poetic verses, factual texts and other media. However, trying to foster independent thinking in the classroom can be difficult. Asking our pupils to deduce meaning from a poem, or infer and interpret language can be like hitting a brick wall. Pupils can find the abstract world of metaphors and figurative language very daunting. So how can we ensure our learners are able to read between the lines? And even more difficult, how can we stress the importance of this skill?

It’s all in the note taking

There is often a pressure in lessons to ensure learners get pen to paper. But this can often be meaningless and rushed. A key investment in developing pupils ability to read between the lines is taking time to teach the art of note taking. Pupils who can discuss different meanings in a text, highlight them and select relevant information become more engaged in a text and practice the skills required in reading assessments.

Step One- Pick an engaging text

The text you select to annotate is crucial. You may already have a poem or extract from a text that you are focusing on as a class. However, if you want your pupils to remember the process of annotation then ask them to select their favourite song lyric or fairytale. A favourite text of mine to annotate is Firework by Katy Perry. It is full of metaphors and figurative language. Taking a lesson out of the scheme of work to practice this skill can be really refreshing. You can then apply the skill of annotations to other texts you are studying.


TES have a great resource for Firework by Katy Perry:

Step Two- Do your homework

It is essential that you set some time aside to annotate the text yourself before the lesson. This will give you some time to understand the process of highlighting key words and will familiarise you with the text. It will also tease out any words pupils may stumble on and ensure you are prepared for any questions. During this time you could create instructions or a checklist outlining the process you went through when working through the text.

Step Three- Resources

Give your pupils everything they need to annotate a text to a high ability. The text that is annotated can be glued into their books for them to refer to or you could create a display. Provide as much kinesthetic tools as possible to keep all the pupils interested. I’m talking highlighters, rulers, gel pens, post it notes, whiteboards, laminated poems. Anything that will work for your class. You could even encourage them to write on the table in whiteboard pen. The aim is to show them that they can be creative even when they are not creating a story or poem themselves. A personal favourite is to blow up a poem, print it out and stick it on a wall or window. As a class you can annotate the poem together and they will always remember the lesson.

Step Four- The lesson itself

You can begin the lesson with examples of annotated texts, an activation discussion about the text itself, playing a famous song that you may be annotating, or reordering the poem; to name but a few options. Before giving out resources it is essential you model the thinking process of annotating a text to the class. Take the first two sentences and explain how to note take. You are basically modelling the thinking process to go through at this point. It may seem simple but it will really benefit the learners. Highlight the key words in front of the class, verbalise simple observations such as ‘this word describes the character’. As pupils follow your thought process you can then stretch them by explaining how you noticed a specific technique, it is important you then verbalise any questions you may have asked yourself at this point. For example, ‘I have noticed this is a metaphor because it states that the person is a firework and I know this is exaggeration, I then asked myself why has Katy Perry decided to use a metaphor. Well, let’s look closer’. This dialogue is clear and models exactly the thought process you expect when looking at language. As you model the process you are working your way through Bloom’s taxonomy; starting with selecting key information and moving on to evaluating and predicting what the writer intended. To provide scaffolding for learners you could give them a checklist with Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure they have followed all of steps.

Once you have modeled this process you can then set pupils off on the task. It is imperative that you give them one sentence to start with and then regroup and discuss their interpretations. The aim of the lesson is to train pupils to closely read for detail. Therefore, it is essential they spend a long time on a small section to make their annotations deep and meaningful. Providing a success criteria with step-by-step instructions, checklists, key techniques to look for can aid learners. For a high ability class challenge them to find meanings alone. The link below provides a detailed lesson plan to teach annotations but there are many other ways.

Step 5Embed it in lessons

In any assessment or piece of work where learners need to deduce meanings and present their views, it is important you allow time to annotate the text you are studying and discuss it first. The more you do this in lessons and provide time to discuss interpretations the more confident your learners will be to do this alone. This will develop their reading ability, their independent thinking and will have a positive effect on their levels across reading, writing and oracy.

Ready, Set, Annotate

I recently spent a lesson teaching my Year 8s how to annotate the opening section of The Hunger Games. They used different colours to identify different aspects of the novel; settings, character, techniques. They really enjoyed it, and with some extra time to model the thinking process, they created some excellent annotations.

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Instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box
Deepak Chopra