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What annotation expectations should I have for struggling readers?

march 24, 2020

Teaching students how to annotate the text is an important reading comprehension strategy. However, for some students, annotation is just a task that the teacher makes them do. A starting point for annotation is to introduce the Reading Voice and Thinking Voice to help explain what students should be marking and why they should be noticing it.

Go beyond codes

Once students are able to recognize their Thinking Voices while reading, we need to then introduce the idea of just jotting thoughts in the margins. However, avoid making this step all about the symbols. While exclamation points, underlines, and circles can be helpful, they may offer an extra confusing step to struggling readers.

Remember, the whole point of annotating the text isn’t the marks—it’s the thoughts. When teaching kids to highlight or note the important information, we need to also teach them the why of what they are highlighting.

Articulate thoughts

Start this process by getting kids to articulate their thoughts, even if they aren’t able to write them down. Every skill we teach begins with whole-class instruction, so maybe as students are having thoughts, you can demonstrate how to put those thoughts into two or three words in the margin.

Some students may not get much past this in first or second grade, but by third grade, they should be able to jot a couple of words in the margin next to the text that caused them to think those thoughts.

Target annotation all year

Annotation is not a singular unit that you touch on at the beginning of the year, do one or two lessons and then assume students have a firm grasp on annotation. Instead, this is yearlong instruction with a scaffold.

1. Start with an understanding of Reading Voice and Thinking Voice.
2. Notice important words and put a synonym in the margin.
3. Mark main ideas.
4. Retell main ideas in a few words.

Once students can do these skills with one text, move that same thinking into small groups and, eventually, into more independent work with partners and individually.

Make connections within a text

As they read and strengthen their annotation skills, students will start to see connections within the same text and be able to identify reasons or big ideas that go together and the smaller details that support them.

This is when arrows, numbers, and labels can help students organize their ideas. Introduce these in a mini-lesson series with whole-class instruction and teacher as scribe. This teaches the kids to notice and talk about their thoughts while you are marking their ideas, shoring them up, and supporting them. Again, once the whole class is starting to gain an understanding, push each concept into small groups.

Make connections across multiple texts

The goal is for students third grade and up to be able to read multiple texts, make connections, and annotate across them. Students will take what they learned with one text in whole-class instruction and hone in on those skills to expand their ability to tackle multiple texts, contradictory information, and big ideas. But it starts with one, single text and whole-class instruction.

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