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Top 7 Procedures for Annotating (Great for all Subjects!) Close Reading at its best

by Karen Salsbury, M.S. Ed/Reading

Close reading is huge!  We’ve always had this in education, but not defined it as the Common Core has done. 

The major success in a close reading strategy is learning how to annotate properly.Top 7 Procedures for Annotating. Great for all subjects.

Many students today are borderline illiterate and lacking in critical thinking skills given the amount of “watching” versus the amount of “reading” done in today’s society.  Before the Internet, students had to research and read from printed text, now they can find a video on YouTube to explain what they need.  But what does this do to their critical thinking skills?  Studies show that students learn differently from print.  According to Scientific American “evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss…(this) prevent(s) people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.” (By Ferris Jabr on April 11, 2013).

In today’s age of technology, it is important to remember that technology is only a tool as pencil and paper are tools, and all of these tools are effective in learning.  Annotating is most effective when done with paper and pencil, even though some software programs allow for on-screen annotations.  I’ve tried using these on-screen tools with my students, and they are distracting and not nearly as effective, not to mention clunky and hard to learn.  This distracts from the actual strategy of annotating.  I encourage you to use pencil and paper with your students whenever possible for annotating.

Learning to annotate is paramount to reading comprehension.  When students are given reading strategies, their comprehension increases dramatically.  This can make reading more enjoyable for students who struggle with comprehension.  Many times when I hear a student say they don’t like reading, many times it’s because they have trouble comprehending what they read.  Depending on the age and maturity level of students I teach these procedures separately, then have students practice each one separately until they can learn to use them intertwined.

1.  Ask Specific Questions.

Annotating is interacting with the text. I liken it to a conversation.  If the author were sitting in front of you, what questions would you ask after you read the paragraph he or she wrote?  I also tell my students that “why?” is not an appropriate annotation.  Why what?  Be specific.  Of course, they struggle with this.  They want to just put the word “why” down and then re-read the text later.  This is fine, but do students really know what they are asking?  Are they really connecting with the text, or just didn’t quite understand what they read?  Also, is it a relevant question?  Is it about the central theme or main idea of the text?  Read the following excerpt from DogoNews:

“On June 23, residents of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom (UK)— England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales — went to the polls to determine if the country should leave the European Union (EU). Most experts believed that Britons would make the “sensible” decision and vote against what has popularly been dubbed “Brexit.” After all, the benefits of remaining with the world’s largest economy far outweigh the drawbacks. But the experts were wrong!”

My students might annotate this by asking “what are the four countries?”  This always amazes me because it specifically states the 4 countries.  This shows they are not close reading.  A relevant and important question for this excerpt might be: “What is the EU and why is this making headlines across the world?  Or “What triggered the UK to leave the EU?”

2.  Connect with the Text.

Here is where students should find something in their own background to share that shows they understand. In using the excerpt from number 1, a student might connect by writing “I’ve never been to Europe, but I’ve always wanted to visit England because that’s where my ancestors came from.”  Or, “I can’t wait to vote.  I think having a say is so important.”  These are all personalized and are wonderful to internalize an article.

3.  Give an Opinion.

Depending on the age of your students, they may not even realize that they should have an opinion about what they’re reading. I teach 7th grade and my students have always been told what the article says and the meaning surrounding it.  Now, they need to really think about what they are reading and decide whether they agree, or not, or maybe just whether the author is talented.  Who knows?  They need to offer their own thoughts about the subject.  Again, students should stay with the theme of the text.  For example, you wouldn’t want them to write “I wish it were June 23rd  I miss summer.”  This is not relevant to the main idea.  A more appropriate opinion might be “If 4 countries all voted to leave the EU, they must have had a sensible reason.  That seems like a lot of people.”  Or, “I don’t really care what goes on in Europe.  It doesn’t affect me here.”  Even though this sounds offensive, it may be what your student believes and should be taken into consideration.

4.  Define Vocabulary Words.

In order for students to understand what they are reading, they absolutely must understand the vocabulary words. Any word that seems relevant and important to the message should be defined and written next to the word.  I have had instances where an author might be listing several names of people or places that are remote and really don’t add to comprehension.  In this instance, I tell students not to bother.  I will also have students ask what a word means that is defined in the passage.  This can be maddening, but it does clearly show they are not close reading.  Example: “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox” (Galileo), that is logically unacceptable.

5.  React!

Here’s where I tell my students “WoW!” is NOT annotating. Wow what?  Be specific.  My students really struggle with being specific, so we discuss what specific means and how they can come up with something specific.  I tell them “re-read the text and come up with something that you are reacting to.”  It depends on the article as to how easy it is for them to react.  The excerpt above might be hard for them to have a reaction to if they are young; however, an article on hurt puppies would get a huge reaction.  The key is to have some sort of reaction to the article.  An example from the above excerpt would be “It will be interesting to find out of these countries have made the right choice.

6.  What are the big ideas? What is the theme?

It’s very important for students to be able pick out the main idea of an article.  For some, this seems to come naturally, but for others it can be very, very difficult.  In making this one of the parts of annotating, it forces the students to take a deeper look at the text to figure out what the author is trying to convey.  With the article above, it may seem obvious to us that the author is talking about England leaving the EU, but for others not so much.  In addition, it’s hard to tell just from the excerpt, but the main idea goes deeper than just that the four countries are leaving the EU.  From the final sentence, “But the experts were wrong!” with an exclamation point on it, it’s clear the article has a lot more to say on the subject and how the author feels about the topic will come later in the text.  By finding the big idea in the major paragraphs, students should have a good feel for all of it by the time they read the whole text.

7.  Summarize and Synthesis.

This is where I ask students to cover the article and just summarize it in their own words, synthesizing the big ideas to see if they have picked out the important theme and ideas. This doesn’t have to be too long, but it should be long enough to have all the major points in it.  For instance, in a 500-word text, 4-5 sentences could take care of it adequately, but for longer texts of course, this would need to be adjusted.  It would also need to be adjusted for younger students.  As an added bonus, this tells we teachers whether the student understood the text or not.

Now for the comprehension part

After students are done annotating, I like to give them a couple of open-ended questions about the text to test how closely they read and annotated, and how deeply they understood the text.  Close reading is time consuming, but the rewards are great.  By using the rigor of annotating, students will come away with a good understanding of the topic.  Hard work and rigor are vital to student learning.  Annotating works especially well in science and social studies as well as English Language Arts.  Since there isn’t as much text in math, it won’t be used as often; however, it is very effective when trying to deliver technical math problems.

Close reading strategies such as annotating can all be difficult for students to learn and it is time consuming, but in the end students will have a much deeper understanding of the text and complex concepts that may have seemed impossible become much easier to grasp.  Annotating is a highly effective approach to increased comprehension.  Click on this link to get your free close reading classroom ready presentation:  http://www.teacher1stop.com/product/close-reading-presentation/

Add your comments to the bottom if you have any words of wisdom, strategies or thoughts after reading this article.  Thanks for stopping by.

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