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3 Cross-Content Annotation Strategies

For students to engage with text, make connections to their prior knowledge, and identify key ideas and concepts, annotation strategies do not need to be overly-complex. The more simple, the more likely students will use and retain them, especially if they are adopted cross-content.

So, the following three annotation strategies can be used across grade and content levels, from science, to reading, to math.

Symbols !, ?, *

I like this strategy because the symbols speak for themselves and therefore, are easier for students to use in the following ways:

!: When information is surprising, or is connected to previous knowledge or personal experience

*: When information is important, meaningful

?: When the student has a question about the text, does not understand a word or phrase, is confused

Chunk n Summarize

Take the text and “chunk,” breaking it up into different sections. Ask students to read each section and then summarize what it was they read; this will condense the text into shorter form. If possible, provide a few lines or space next to the paragraphs or problem, as seen below. Reading and thinking happen simultaneously, therefore, we want students to read and jot down their notes next to the text, rather than have to move to another place to take notes and then go back to find their place in the text again.

In math, or for a problem that requires steps to complete, provide the steps to complete the problem or question, and have students summarize each step. See here.

In general, be mindful of students who are not summarizing, but rather, are drawing connections, or giving opinions. While these skills are important, the purpose of this strategy is to demonstrate comprehension- students have an innate ability to make connections about a text that they are struggling to understand.

Recorded Thinking

Provide students with a statement(s) about the text they are reading; the statement should be about the text, not lifted/copied from the text. Have students underline the details that support the statement and then paraphrase the details in their own words. From there, students should create a symbol that represents each detail. Each statement you provide should have at least 2-3 details in the text that support it.

Order of operations when introducing these strategies:

  1. Teacher Think-Aloud: The teacher should model the strategy for the beginning section of the text (maybe the first paragraph) or problem.

  2. The student works in pairs or in groups, using the annotation strategies for the next problem or next paragraph.

  3. Students complete the article independently, continuing with the use of the strategies.

  4. Students come back together whole-group to share their summaries. The teacher can annotate each summary while students are sharing.

These strategies will help students better understand the material, retain information, critically analyze the text, and build their meta-cognition skills. Give one a try!


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