Empowering Writers

Making Annotation & Analysis Fun – Text Detective Kits!

It would be great if there was a sexier name for annotation and analysis. The term conjures up images of students slumped at their desks, the teacher pressing them to a task that sounds as though it belongs in the same category as sentence diagraming. In other words – deadly boring.

I’m happy to say that despite the didactic connotation, annotation and analysis (or whatever you may prefer to call it!) doesn’t have to elicit that kind of response from kids, even those as young as 7 or 8. In fact, if done well, annotation and analysis is a powerful tool that can be used to help students read more closely and to inform their writing. The process demystifies the many rich layers of text, including identification of the genre, the underlying organizational structure, the author’s and reader’s purpose, and highlights the salient features of the genre. In essence, students can become adept at deconstructing text by reading it with author’s eyes. The question is, how can it be done in a way that won’t put kids to sleep?

First, if introduced with enthusiasm, presenting the process as some very advanced literary detective work that, in the past, was done by much older students makes it immediately more appealing. Elementary students enjoy tossing around the words “annotation and analysis” (they sound quite technical), impressing their parents who may have never been involved in this kind of literary analysis until high school or beyond. Being privy to something their parents are impressed (and maybe even a little intimidated by) raises the “sex appeal” instantly. So does the idea of doing detective work. If you’re a creative type, and are so inclined, you can play this up, giving each child a “Text Detective Kit” that includes a special folder (Download this cute detective image that can be glued to the front cover ).

a special annotation pencil, and yellow highlighter. This not only feels like fun, but emphasizes the importance. It also sends the message that this will be more than a one shot deal. You might also kick off the initiative with a bulletin board, having each student create a portrait of her or himself as a detective, holding a magnifying glass and wearing “annotation glasses” so that they can begin to see with author’s eyes. The title of the bulletin board might read: WE ARE TEXT DETECTIVES! WE READ WITH AUTHOR’S EYES! Beside their self-portraits you can hang samples of annotated text as well as some guiding questions.

If you’re uncertain about how to engage them in the activity, or what to highlight, check out this third grade lesson that outlines the process. Download the lesson below.

And, going forward, you might refer to annotation and analysis as “Operation Text”, “Text Forensics”…or whatever you like. But engage in it regularly and soon your students will begin to read differently – and write more powerfully!


Download Grade 3 Lesson