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Use Annotations to Deepen Comprehension Conversations

April 16, 2017

Use Annotations to Deepen Comprehension Conversations

If students are going to achieve a deeper, more complex understanding of their reading, we first need to equip them with the tools to get there. This can occur through a 3-step progression. First, we show kids how to document their thinking by making notes as they read. Then we give them opportunities to extend their initial thoughts through powerful, text-based conversations. With this new thinking, students are finally prepared to formulate intelligent arguments that are supported and anchored in the text.

Here’s a closer look at how to build that scaffold:

Step 1–Thinking Aloud on Paper

Explain that readers often track their thoughts on paper. This includes annotating the text using margin notes, sticky notes, graphic organizers, etc.

Plan to model this process for your students first. Depending on the text and your technology, this might include:

  • Sliding the text or graphic organizer under a document camera to show the notes you’re making in the margins.
  • Modeling how to create digital notes within a PDF digital text.
  • Adhering extra large sticky notes to a big book you are reading to your primary students.
  • Photocopying the passage onto a transparency and logging your thoughts using a write-on/wipe-off marker.

Regardless of the technology, you need to make your thoughts visible to your students. After seeing the variety and quantity of your thoughts, students are ready to practice.

Miniature Gold Annotation Example
Mini Golf Sticky Note Close-Up

Step 2–Extending their thinking

The notes are simply the initial “tracks” of the reader’s thoughts–they aren’t the end goal. If the notes are “tracks,” then the students must act as detectives to “track” down bigger meanings. This can’t happen if students aren’t expected to eventually reread their own notes. By doing so, a reader relives his original thinking and is better prepared to participate in a class conversation about the text.

Intentionally guide the conversation away from summarizing the author’s ideas to discovering bigger and deeper meanings. Here are some sample questions for both literature and informational text.

Step 3–Taking a stance

Often, this new thinking includes students drawing conclusions about ideas in the text. This is the nature of argument. Students will make a claim about the text’s ideas or characters that requires proof from the reading.

Don’t allow students to speak off the cuff in generalities and surface opinions. Teach them to always “Bring It Back to the Book.” Plan to teach specific lessons about how to retrieve textual evidence. This includes how to:

  • Quote phrases and passages from a text.
  • Utilize quotation marks for phrases and sentences copied word-for-word from the text.
  • Include page numbers and paragraph numbers to indicate where the proof was found.

Walking students through this 3-step process takes time. But these rigorous discussions and deeper thinking lay the foundation for students to meet the expectations of college and career ready.

Kristina Smekens-- Bring It Back to the Book
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