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4 Steps to Teach Students to Annotate Successfully!

Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

One of the more frustrating things about teaching students to annotate is when they seem to think highlighting THE ENTIRE PASSAGE is what they're supposed to do ... well, not quite. So, how can we avoid this ever-present problem and help our students annotate text successfully? Over the years, these 4 ideas have proven to be the most effective strategies we've introduced to our students.


We start annotating as young as third grade and build on the complexity of the expectations (i.e., theme, inference, etc.) through the intermediate grades. While you may not have this type of support at your school, that's totally okay, just start implementing these strategies today! You should notice a marked difference!

We've found these following strategies help our students become more proficient annotators who work with a purpose (no more highlighting ENTIRE paragraphs or pages!). *You can adjust these strategies for any grade level - third grade all the way through high school. We promise your students will get more out of their reading if you implement these strategies!

Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

Give each student a Close Reading Strategies Bookmark, and go over the different tips for close reading a text. We spend at least an entire class period going over these strategies - using examples to model each specific strategy, discussing why each of these strategies is important, etc.

If you want your students to find success through this, don't simply skim over them! Explain to your students that while we often read for enjoyment, sometimes there is a different purpose for reading a text. For example, you might be searching for information to help answer a question. Which brings us to strategy two ...

Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

Always provide students with an essential question to focus on as they read the novel/short story/poem. Here's our question for Kathryn Erskine's novel Mockingbird: "Based on the protagonist's experiences in the novel, is empathy a critical component of a successful relationship?"

Our students will then write this question on the inside front cover of their novel and on their Evidence Tracker. Students now know this essential question will be their final Response to Literature once we complete the novel. Thus, the final essay is NOT a surprise, and students feel more than prepared for it as they are annotating evidence from the text to support this question well in advance!

*Important Tip: When creating an essential question, PLEASE make sure you write your own essay or Response to Literature answering it. As teachers, when we sit down to write our own response to the essential question we've come up with, we are more easily able to find gaps in the question. The question might not be entirely clear and needs to be reworded. Or there might not be enough evidence from the text to adequately support an opinion. 


Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

Require students to have THREE different colored highlighters that serve three different purposes. 

  • We use one for highlighting new vocabulary words (students are required to write the definition in the text as well), 
  • one for highlighting evidence that can be used to answer the essential question and later be written in the Evidence Tracker, 
  • and one for clues in the text that will help them answer their study questions. 

We use these FREE Close Reading Highlighter Labels from First Grade Bangs to help students keep track of their annotations.

Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

Finally, we hold students accountable for their annotations with periodic annotation checks using a teacher-friendly rubric we made. (You can grab the rubric for free by CLICKING HERE.) We don't just give credit / no credit for annotations. Rather, students are graded on their genuine ability to annotate the text well - no more PAGES AND PAGES OF HIGHLIGHTS!

What are some strategies you use in your classroom for teaching excellent annotation skills? Let us know!

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Easy to implement tips for teaching your students how to annotate correctly. Perfect tips for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom!

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