How to Teach Annotation in High School

Teach Students How to Annotate

In an ideal world, students annotate with ease, naturally interacting with the texts on paper. In this ELA utopia, students connect metaphors to emerging themes, recognize foreshadowing, and question characters’ motivations.

However, as most teachers know, the actual classroom experience with annotation differs gravely. Many students struggle with annotation. They aren’t sure what to write or how annotations could possibly enhance their reading experience. For these students, asking them to annotate is just another meaningless task.

I have found the key to teaching annotation is through step-by-step scaffolding. I start by giving students specific annotation tasks and guiding them through the process.

Annotation Tasks for “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

While these tasks are by nature inauthentic, they provide students with the experience of extracting deeper meaning from the text through the process of annotation.

My favorite text to use in teaching annotation is Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.” Most high school students find this text difficult and Poe has layered it with rich meaning through the use of multiple literary devices, making it perfect for annotation. The steps I use to teach annotation with “The Cask of Amontillado” are outlined below.  

Steps for Teaching Annotation:

  • Choose a complex text.
  • Create annotate tasks for students. Conduct your own close reading of the text to determine literary devices and other features you can guide students to discover.
  • If possible, find an audio version of the text. I use the one below with “The Cask of Amontillado.”
  • Play the audio version while students read along. Pause every few minutes for students to complete the annotation tasks.

Students end up with robust annotations:

Guided Annotations for “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe

This entire process is guided practice to help students learn to annotate on their own. At the end of the lesson, have students reflect on the value of the annotations. Students are usually impressed at their ability to comprehend beyond the surface and extract deep meaning from the text.

After guided practice with annotation tasks, students are ready to try it on their own. As students practice, annotation will be as natural as thinking about the text.

If you are looking for NO PREP annotation resources, look no further! For a 3-day lesson, my “The Cask of Amontillado” assignment is perfect. If you are looking for an in-depth resource, check out my 4-Week Short Story Unit Plan in which students read and annotate four different short stories.

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