Annotation is often used to help students to identify important ideas, information, and vocabulary in the texts. Annotation can improve focus, retention, and summary of information and promote deep reading and understanding that enables higher order tasks such as analysis and evaluation of ideas in the texts; therefore, it should be taught explicitly in class. Though students can develop their own annotation style and uses symbols and marks based on their preferences, it is more effective for instructors to present models/guides for annotation and ask students to compare their own. In the process of annotating the texts, students can also engage in questioning and interacting with the text, making connection with other ideas, and setting up the stage for further research on specific topics.

Sample Annotation Practice

College Reading Challenges and Practice Annotating

One of the greatest challenges students face is adjusting to college reading expectations.  Students in college are expected to read more academic type of materials in less time and usually recall the information as soon as the next class.

The problem is many students spend hours reading and have no idea what they just read.  Their eyes are moving across the page, but their minds are somewhere else. The end result is wasted time, energy, and frustration, and having to read the text again. Although students are taught how to read at an early age, many are not taught how to actively engage with written text or other media. Annotation is a tool to help you learn how to actively engage with a text or other media.


Practice now:

1. Underline the part of the sentence above that gives you a definition of annotation. You should not underline the entire sentence. In the margin next to that line, write “D” or “Def” so remind you that what you marked is a definition.


2. Return to the first paragraph. In the first sentence, circle only the five words in the first sentence that name the challenge that many students face. In the second sentence, you get three characteristics of reading in college. Put a number over each one. In the margin, next to the paragraph, write “challenges.”


3. The second paragraph states a cause and an effect. What causes students to have to feel frustration about reading?



4 a) Write one sentence in which you state the challenge that many students face.

4b) Write another sentence in which you state the three characteristics of college reading.

4c) Write a third sentence in which you state a problem many students have related to college reading.

4d) In a fourth sentence write how annotation can help students deal with that problem.

The Secret is in the Pen

One of the ways proficient readers read is with a pen in hand. They know their purpose is to keep their attention on the material by:

·    Predicting what the material will be about

·    Questioning the material to further understanding

·    Determining what’s important

·    Identifying key vocabulary

·    Summarizing the material in their own words, and

·    Monitoring their comprehension (understanding) during and after engaging with the material

The same applies for actively viewing a film, video, image or other media.

5. What do good readers do with their pen while they are reading? In the second sentence, circle a good reader’s purpose for reading with a pen in hand. In the white space next to that sentence, the margin, write “purpose.”


Attribution: Making Connections: Mindful Reading and Writing, by Julie Damerell, Monroe Community College. License: CC BY.

How to Write an Annotation,” by Paul Powell, Central Community College, Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License: CC BY.

How to Write an Annotation,” by Elisabeth Ellington and Ronda Dorsey Neugebauer, Chadron State College, Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License: CC BY.


Review this video to learn about how to annotate a text.

Attribution: “Learn To Annotate at Our Community College in Michigan,” by Gail Shirey, Southwestern Michigan College (2011). This video is copyrighted and is not licensed under an open license. Embedded as permitted by YouTube’s Terms of Use.

More about Annotation

While annotation appears to be a general activity to engage student reading, it takes on different forms and purposes. There are many creative ways to use annotations, which are especially useful in an integrated reading and writing classroom:

Teachers annotation – Pre-populate a text with questions for students to reply to in annotations or notes elucidating important points as they read.
Annotation as gloss Have students look up difficult words or unknown allusions in a text and share their research as annotations.
Annotation as questions – Have students highlight, tag, and annotate words or passages that are confusing to them in their readings.
Annotation as close readingHave students identify formal textual elements and broader social and historical contexts at work in specific passages.
Annotation as rhetorical analysis Have students mark and explain the use of rhetorical strategies in online articles or essays.
Annotation as opinion – Have students share their personal opinions on a controversial topic as discussed by an article.
Annotation as Multi-media writingHave students annotate with images and video or integrate images and video into other types of annotations.
Annotation as Independent Study – Have students explore the Internet on their own with some limited direction (find an article from a respectable source on a topic important to you personally), exercising traditional literacy skills (define difficult words, identify persuasive strategies, etc.).
Annotation as Annotated BibliographyHave students research a topic or theme and tag and annotate relevant texts across the Internet.
Annotation as creative act and reflectionHave students respond creatively to their reading with their own poetry or prose or visual art as annotations.

Attribution: Adapted from “Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students,” by Jeremy Dean (2015).

Students can also foster their skills in annotating texts by looking at best practices and useful guidelines and tips for effective annotation. A peer review guide can also help students improve their annotation techniques.