The study of English at school is about discerning meaning.
The NSW Board of Studies sees it this way: Language shapes our understanding of ourselves and our world, and is the primary means by which we relate to others. The Australian Curriculum emphasises literacy: … students become literate as they develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school and for participating effectively in society.
Now I don’t think I am drawing too long a bow when I talk about engagement with texts fulfilling these lofty aims. If you’ve been reading my blog you’ll know that I consider the process of annotating to be one way of deeply engaging with texts. It enables students to ‘study the use of language in its various textual forms’ and to develop the ability to ‘interpret and use language confidently’ (see above websites).
So here’s a list of ten ways to annotate texts that will encourage students to ‘think deeply and logically, and obtain and evaluate evidence in a disciplined way’, and ‘play an active role in their own learning’. (The Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians)
- Clarifying: this is one of the basic processes of Reciprocal Teaching and essential for comprehension. Which words or phrases have not been understood? Where is the answer – in the student’s head, on the page or elsewhere?
- Focus on language choices at the word level. Find and annotate the verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc. Consider how the author’s diction shapes meaning.
- Sentence structure. What do students notice about the length and composition of the sentences? Consider how the author’s choices shape meaning.
- Further questions. Which parts of the narrative are unclear? Are there elements operating which require the student to draw on knowledge from outside the text? What has the student forgotten from earlier reading?
- Interpretation: what is the text really about? What is the student’s own interpretation? Does the text move the reader? What other interpretations are gleaned from class discussion? Colour coding of notes can be useful here.
- Other sources. What do the academics and theorists say about this text? This can develop into a palimpsest on the page with each layer of interpretation creating new meaning.
- Language and/or poetic devices. Obviously the list here is endless. Frequently, students can identify these with ease on the page so the annotation activity might be to explore patterns in the usage.
- Images, symbols, motifs, allusions, intertextuality - IDEAS. Whilst this can be dealt with in the previous point, some students are not adept at this level of recognition thus it may need specific targeting.
- Text structure. How does the structure of the text affect your reading of this section? Annotation in this are can be about the physical layout of the text and/or the internal structure of the form – e.g., plot points in a narrative, coda in song lyrics.
- Summary - what’s happened so far?
I haven’t even touched on audience or context or the variations of those over time. Readers will have to work on those concepts themselves.
All of these activities can be used individually, in pairs or groups, and can be used simultaneously for different group formations. Highlighting and writing/typing is a good start, whether the text is online or offline. Post-it notes or tape flags can be utilized where students cannot write on the text itself. This can lead to fun activities such as swapping post-it note questions, or using a document camera to photograph their notes, much like I did in the previous two posts.
Actively teaching students how to annotate can only deepen their reading experience.