Your Next Lesson: Annotation Stations

By Karla Hilliard

Too many times, text annotations turn into a scavenger hunt for literary or rhetorical devices. Many a pen-wielding student has invested hours of time marking and highlighting and commenting and sticky-note-ing and chasing down elusive examples of obscure devices or filling up margins for the sake of filling them up. I often wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze, if students can or even should apply this skill to other texts in other disciplines and if it garners reliable results. Of course, I want my students to be active, thoughtful, intentional readers. I want them to be hyper-aware of their surroundings in any given work of literature. I want them to notice the subtleties that make meaning and where a writer has flourished attention. I want them to think so much about The Why and The How of literature that it makes their heads spin. But I want to coach students in developing close-reading habits of mind, not mindless habits.

One way I like to begin our conversations about text annotations is through an activity called Annotation Stations. It’s super easy, requires minimal prep, and makes for a great (and meaningful) way to spend a class period.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Photocopies of pre-selected passages ( you could get your students to help with this)
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Timer


Here’s how it works:

  1. First, have students post responses on the board to the question, “What should we pay attention to in literature?” (Some of my students’ responses included foreshadowing, imagery and detail, important “stuff”, key sentences and words, character development, literary devices, and moments that ask questions.)
  2. Have students get into groups of 3-4, and hand out chart paper, photocopied passages, and a cup of markers.
  3. Give students 5-6 minutes per station to mark up the passage. Encourage them to have conversations with the text and with one another.
  4. Visit each group of students and see what you can find out. Ask questions, add to the annotations, have students explain their thinking, challenge them to return to the text to find places that support their thinking.
  5. After students move from station to station, have them return to their original passage. Give them time to read and process the text annotations and how others approached the passage.
  6. Have each student star the comment that reveals the greatest insight.
  7. Go group to group, and have one student share out the comment they starred, why they found it the most insightful, and what it reveals about the text.


The purpose of this activity is to get students moving and thinking and responding to the text. Annotation Stations gives students an opportunity to see how their peers are making meaning of a text while practicing annotation strategies that lead to insight and deeper understanding.

WVCTE is wondering…

How do you build close-reading habits of mind? What are some ways you coach students in text annotations?

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I’d love to hear from you! — Karla