Conversations with Texts: Annotating Non-Fiction Articles

note taking

Atkins, Sue. mvc-002s1.jpg. June 15, 2004. Pics4Learning. 24 Feb 2014

Kristina Claytor wanted her students to read non-fiction texts in preparation for a Socratic Seminar over themes in Divergent; She also wanted them to practice annotation strategies. To this end, we planned a lesson where the teacher modeled metacognitive annotation and then students practiced the skill independently and in small groups.

For the seminar, students will read and annotate Divergent and additional non-fiction texts dealing with the development of identity in teenagers.  Here are some of the essential questions for the seminar.  (Students also wrote their own.)

Primary Question: What is identity?  In other words, what makes you who you are?


·       What external factors (things outside of yourself and your control) make you who you are?

·       What internal factors make you who you are?

·       Is identity able to be changed or is it unchangeable?

·       What struggles do teens face when trying to establish who they are?

·       How can teens overcome these struggles?  How?

·       What role does technology play in defining you and your relationship to others?  How might this change your

identity compared to someone in Divergent?

·       Do other people’s perceptions define you, or do you define yourself?

The lesson had the following learning targets:

  • žI can interact and “converse” with a text through the process of annotation.
  • žI can note important elements of a text, which I may have to reference later in class discussion or in my writing.
žWe started with the following quick write question:
  • What do you do while you are reading?  What is your reading process?


  • How do you know what is important?
  • What do you do when you struggle to understand something?
  • What is going on in your brain while you are reading?

After students wrote about the topic, we had a class discussion about responses.  Many students admitted to struggling with comprehension.  However, some were also able to identify coping mechanisms, such as using context clues, pausing after paragraphs to think, and looking at text in bold or italics again.  We also discussed how reading non-fiction texts differs from fiction; there isn’t a “narrative” to grab the reader with informational texts.  We analyzed the purposes of each text type (to entertain versus to inform) and how each changes the reading process.  Annotation of non-fiction texts was introduced as a way to “converse” with the ideas presented since “visualization” (as in with a story or narrative) wouldn’t be as easy.  Annotation can therefore assist with comprehension and engagement with texts that provide unique challenges.

After the quick write, we went over a handout providing metacognitive annotation symbols (see bottom of the post for the handout).  We also gave them a Sample Text to Annotate and modeled annotation with them using the symbols provided.  To do this, we opened the file in Word on the LCD projector, highlighted text, and then used the “insert comment” function to put in our annotations.  Students were most interested in the “text-to-self” connections made in the process.  They seemed to enjoy my personal connections.  (We were using the New Yorker article about the trauma caused by high school.)  I had some to say on this topic.

After modeling, students were homogeneously grouped by their ATOS levels as determined by STAR and given one of three articles tiered by difficulty level.  We asked them to use the same annotation symbols we had used together.  Here are links to the articles:

We found the practice activity worked best when we gave students a certain number of connections, questions, comments etc.  to make on their article independently.  Then, they met in their tiered groups to compare notes afterward.

Here are some additional resources for this lesson that can be used in the classroom:

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