Instructions for Students on How to Write Annotations: Tips for Teachers

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A Grave Problem

I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was sure my students would do great on the test…until I graded them. Instead of reading the novel, they watched the movie. “How could I be so dumb?” I shouted. “Of course they watched the movie!” I punched the wall, broke my wrist, and had to take the next week off to recover.

What I realized during my time off was that I should have made my students write annotations of the novel. This will force them to read because they’ll have to take notes inside the book. he first thing I did when I got back was teach my class how to write annotations.

Annotation Supplies

Annotating requires students to think critically about a text. Writing an annotation is different than taking notes. Annotation involves writing in the book, engaging the author in conversation, questioning, and clarifying main points. The following supplies make the exercise run much more smoothly:

  1. Post-it Notes: If the book belongs to a school, library, or someone else, use Post-it notes.
  2. Highlighter: Yellow works best. Underlining, circling, and stars become laborious and sloppy. Yellow highlighters emphasize without distracting.
  3. Pencil: Write notes in the margins. Pencil is easy to erase. If you write something really stupid in pen, it will be there for years, reminding you just how stupid you used to be.
  4. A Book: This is obvious.


Teach students to annotate any text from which they may need to produce evidence for an essay, debate, or examination. Give them the following instructions:

  1. As you read highlight key information.
  2. As you read take marginal notes. These notes can include stars, check marks, phrases, questions, question marks, words, etc.
  3. Keep a list of key information with page numbers on the front cover (Students will need guidance on what constitutes key information, which depends on genre, purpose, and reading level.).
  4. Write a brief summary at the end of each chapter or section.
  5. Write an alternative title for each chapter or section.
  6. List vocabulary words on the back cover.


Assessing annotations, if done improperly, bogs down even the most efficient teachers. I recommend spot checking certain pages and assessing just those pages. The grade could be based on quantity and quality of information, chapter summaries, or listing of key information.

This post is part of the series: Improve Reading Comprehension in Your Students

Help students understand what they read with these teaching ideas.

  1. Making Judgments Mini Lessons to Rely On
  2. Have Your Class Write Annotations: Teacher Tips
  3. Students Use Critical Thinking to Analyze Character Goals
  4. Strategies to Teach Myths and Legends to High School Students
  5. Strategies to Teach Plot Better