Monday, December 10, 2012

Image Annotation: A Close Reading Strategy with a Twist

Among the various ways we teach close reading to students, annotating and text coding are my favorite. Whether I'm teaching ninth graders in speech or seniors in communication and English, annotating and text coding is one of the first lessons and a recurring one.

Teachers had the opportunity to hear speakers share annotating lessons at NCTE 2012 in Las Vegas. I sat in on one such roundtable session during High School Matters.

With implementation of CCSS in 2014, annotating is experiencing somewhat of a revival as a preferred close reading methodology.

For all the ideas from professionals, including Tom Newkirk's superb discussion of annotating in The Art of Slow Reading, which I reviewed in an earlier post, it's one of my student's method of annotating a recent assignment that inspired this post.

The assignment, which is part of a longer unit: text-code and annotate the poem you selected from the Poetry Out Loud website.

Here's a picture of Treyton's annotation, which he has graciously permitted me to use:

The poem "Dreamers" by Siegfried Sassoon that Treyton chose to annotate is in the center of the page. I like that Treyton added both commentary and images to his annotation. The speech bubble connected to the image of a soldier with a gun seems particularly relevant to the line "Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives." Treyton offers a comment on the line and its relationship to the imagery.

I asked Treyton how he decided to use pictures in his annotation. His response: "You told us to look for images." Isn't it interesting to consider the ways students interpret directions? When I gave the assignment, I also included my usual instructions about annotating and text coding:

  • Ask questions in the margin.
  • Make connections to other texts, etc.
  • Summarize and paraphrase and rewrite lines in your own words.
  • Use text coding as a form of shorthand:
    • Box or circle new words.
    • ! for ideas that excite you or that are new to you.
    • * for ideas you find interesting or important.
    • ? when you have a question about something.
    • ??? when you are confused. 
    • X when you disagree with something. 
In fact, it's easy to find similar ideas about text coding in many places on the internet and in professional literature. 

Still, given the opportunity, students will often respond to tried and true teaching methods in surprisingly new ways. I often tell students, "God made books to be written in, so I'll look the other way if you use a pencil to gloss a few annotations into the book." Looks as though I'll need to view the occasional pictures that crop up a bit more closely, too. 


  1. Love it! We've been focusing on close reading and annotation quite a bit (in class and in lesson study) this year. Like you, it is a favorite of mine no matter the subject. We've found Daniels and Steineke's Texts and Lessons for Content Area Reading especially helpful to grow the strategies across campus.

    1. I have Daniels and Steineke's book "Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action" and "Mini Lessons for Lit Circles," which has an excellent chart for text coding. Which other books of theirs would you recommend?

  2. Glenda --I love that interpretation of "image." Seems like maybe that term has come full circle. The literary concept of "image" is based on how words convey some kind of sensory experience. Now Treyton has rendered words back into a visual "image." I think you're onto something big here. Is it possible (or valuable) for today's students to annotate using only visual images?