are often directed
To study a story in literature or a chapter in a
history text, I would open the book and start reading or skimming, of
course, like everyone else. But was this the same thing as studying?
to take notes or “study the reading” in school.
When I was young, I remember wondering if such directives actually meant
something, or if they were just teacher talk. I didn’t know what to “do”
when given such directions.
Annotating is an
important first step in teaching students to remain engaged with any text.
Annotating is the act of marking up a page of text. The “marking up” can
take many forms, including underlining, highlight, and writing in the
margins (not recommended for expensive textbooks).
Annotating for meaning involves three levels, taught in sequence. First,
students are shown how to annotate for single word meaning. To do this,
they must know what synonyms and antonyms are. When annotating for single
word meaning, students identify key words in a text, circle them, and note
a synonym or antonym in the margin. This process becomes a kind of game
where students enjoy coming up with similar and opposite meanings for
words. A simple quiz can give the following directions: "Annotate the page
for single word meaning. Identify and circle ten key words on the page.
For five of the words, note a synonym in the margin. For the other five,
note an antonym."
This activity keeps students engaged in the text
for a specific purpose. Instead of just skimming or reading – or wondering
what they’re supposed to be doing – students have a task to complete.
Identifying synonyms and antonyms for key words helps students retain the
meaning of the text. This process can be modeled, where the teacher uses a
document camera and common page of text to work through the process
together with the class.
After annotating for
single word meaning, students can practice annotating for sentence
meaning. Using the same process, students identify key sentences and
paraphrase them for meaning by adding phrases in the margins. Finally,
annotating for paragraph meaning. Students again look for important
paragraphs and summarize or paraphrase them by writing a sentence in the
Teaching students to annotate for three levels
of meaning is a specific process that keeps them engaged in text and
requires them to complete tasks that improve retention and understanding.
Annotated pages can be turned in as assignments, and students can earn
points for their work. By focusing on annotating for levels of meaning in
middle school, we help prepare students for the demands of high school and
Donohue teaches middle level Humanities at Park Place Middle
in Monroe, Washington. He has 19 years of teaching experience
serves on the adjunct staff of Seattle Pacific University.
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