Annotating a text: close reading with a pen

Annotation is the act of marking a text with words, symbols, illustrations, or other meaningful notes. Annotating a text supports close reading practices, helps a student engage with a text, and provides teachers with an efficient form of formative assessment. Annotation is more than just taking notes; it is a way to record a conversation with the author, characters, or the text itself. Marks and annotations made within the body of a reading create a reference point for a reader when rereading. Annotations also create a road map to support comprehension and analysis during reading.

Teachers can be more effective in use of annotation by using a few key approaches. Teachers should use annotation strategically with texts or portions of texts that have much to offer and support the need for multiple readings when each reading will reveal another aspect of the text or its content. Do not expect annotation on the first read. There are many different methods of developing annotation practices. Choose a few that are best suited to your students and the types of text they are reading, and then help students get comfortable regularly reading with a pen.

Educators should also use annotation practices regularly with worthy text to help students develop stamina and skill with increasingly complex text. In Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, authors Kylene Beers and Robert Probst identify six signposts to notice and note when reading literature. For example, noting in the text when a character arrives at an “aha” moment or recognizing something that is repeated again and again provides familiar signposts to help the student analyze the text later. The authors also provide familiar sign posts when reading nonfiction texts. Noting absolute language or contrasts and contradictions helps students learn to navigate complex texts, understand new information, and develop a deeper understanding of a topic. Teaching students to note, whether directly on the text or with removable notes, standard “signposts” provides students the tools they need to work through challenging materials.

The staff at Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School in Nevada developed a guide for annotating text appropriate to each grade level K-6 to assure progressively complex responses to increasingly complex texts. The guide helps to demonstrate why annotating is important and identifies reasonable outcomes at each grade.

There are many standard practices for annotating a text. California teacher Matthew Brown offers a four-session lesson plan Teaching Student Annotation: Constructing Meaning Through Connections to teach students standard annotation practices. The guide serves to demonstrate why annotating is important and identifies reasonable outcomes at each grade level.

Many sites provide useful tools and strategies for teaching and using text annotation, including the following:

Digital text can be annotated using digital tools.

  • Graphite, part of Common Sense Media, explains how to use digital tools to annotate digital text using the same print text annotation principles.

Annotation is a powerful formative assessment. Encouraging a habit of annotating texts with consistent approaches helps students learn how to engage with complex texts. As formative assessment, annotated texts provide an efficient method of tracking student progress toward independence.

Choose one strategy or tool today to start and/or enhance your use of annotation.

For more information, contact Maine DOE Literacy Specialist Lee Anne Larsen at or ELA Specialist Morgan Dunton at