Annotation: Week in Review


     Friday Dialogue from Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about annotating.

1.  When did you start marking texts?  What does your personal style of annotation require? 

Emily:  I think it started with Mrs. Nell in my senior English class when we were reading Macbeth.  She asked to look for repetition of words or images.  When I started to recognize the trends I was hooked on annotating and close reading like I’m hooked on Arby’s Beef and Cheddar sandwiches.  However, one of the biggest compliments I have ever received about my annotating abilities came on a flight a few years ago.  My students were reading Kite Runner and I was re-reading and marking up the text for the stylistic patterns.  The woman sitting next to me asked if I was an editor.  My response:  “No, I’m just a really anal retentive reader.”  Still one of the biggest compliments of my life…which maybe says more about my personal life than it does my annotating life!

Aubrey: It’s funny that you say senior year because it was for me too.  Mrs. Biehl had us read “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and I can remember color-coding the entire story at my part time job on a dinner break.  Especially the suggestive bits.  I highlighted those in green.  Back then I was “highlighter.”  Now I’m obsessed with post-it notes.  Nothing makes me happier than those post-it note flags.  I can write just enough on them and also have them on all three sides of the book.  They’re so neat and tidy something that comes into direct opposition with my messy annotation.  I went to a book club once with my copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (see day one again) and the response I got was “oooooh” but not an ooooh like people watching fireworks on the fourth of July.  More like oooooh, crazy town has arrived.

Emily:  Let’s be honest.  They thought crazy town had arrived before you pulled out your book!

2.  How do you see annotation change your students’ critical thinking, reading comprehension and writing? 

Emily:  I think the thing that makes me most weak in the knees is seeing students identify relationships through their annotations.  This might be through drawing lines to connect images categorically or creating a system of marking (like double underlining or drawing a squiggle line) that tracks relationships.  This year I have placed a large 11X14 frame in the classroom and will frame student annotations that are “pretty,” meaning the text is so marked up it is clear to see the conversation that the student had with the text.  Seriously, I fall in love faster for a marked up text than I do a thick-necked boy in an Ohio State jersey.  That says something.

Aubrey:  (after throwing up in her mouth a bit about OSU and then composing herself) It’s so hard to teach annotation.  Honestly.  I feel like I fight this battle every year.  But there is something about a neat and tidy annotation that makes me feel like all is right with the world.  I particularly like rewarding good annotations with sparkly pencils.  I know that some of the boys in my class really appreciate this.  I think this is why find technology to do this so I can put it on the smart board and they can watch annotation being built with things like Concept Board is so important.


3.  What is the most heavily annotated text you own?   In light of our Burning House posts last week if you could save one annotated book which one would it be? 

Emily:  This might be silly, but my favorite thing about annotating a text is that it doesn’t have to be scientific or a checklist that a reader completes.  In its simplest form, annotating is just having a reaction to something read.  When I re-read a text I like to mark it in a different color.  It becomes like a diary.  My marked up copy of Leaves of Grass (yes, I have a clean, pristine copy and a dirty, annotated copy) catalogs my emotional and mental progression since the age of 18.  I would definitely save this (and my copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom just to prove that I actually read it) in an emergency.

Aubrey: Well that’s tricky.  Everything I have is heavily annotated especially all of my Norton Anthologies that I refuse to throw away from college.  They’re a mess of youthful “I love reading books” annotations. At this point all of my important annotated books (i.e. The Great Gatsby) are at school.  If I had to save anything it would probably be my collection of leather bound, gold embossed Jane Austen novels from 1909. I never annotated in those because they were too beautiful but I did once, in a romantic/dreamy stage of my life, type up a whole bunch annotations that correlated to the pages in all the books.  I’m fairly sure that was an entirely large waste of time but it was either that or read “The Lady of Shalott” dramatically aloud.  Perhaps the typing was a better choice.


  1. Stacey says:

    This was great! I still have to read a couple of your posts on annotation this week but love this recap! I love to annotate but I don’t know how effective they are! You guys are providing great examples of how to purposefully annotate. And I love the idea of highlighting students with beautiful and tidy annotations. I also find them beautiful…it is like peering into someone’s mind.

    I have a question, have you ever checked out a book from the library with someone else’s annotation? Did you find it annoying or fascinating?

    • Aubrey & Emily says:

      Such a great question, Stacey. I haven’t seen that in library books, but I have found it in graduate-level textbooks. To a degree I find it helpful to read someone else’s notes or markings, but other times it is distracting because I am not sure I can trust the annotations! It depends on the topic! I’m taking the Sociology of Education right now and am struggling to get through each sentence. Any kind of notation is helpful!
      I understand that you still kind of doubt the efficacy of annotations but will have to see if I can scan in a copy of one of my books. For me, books are like diaries. My annotations hold my feelings and reactions from certain points in my life. Maybe you should go back and re-read some of hte fiction you have marked up…it might be a nice way to reminisce on who you were then!

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