Did you know? Asking students to highlight information as they read may actually impede their learning. Research shows that highlighting is NOT an effective note-taking strategy.

• Highlighting is a passive activity that doesn’t encourage students to engage with the text. “Left to their own devices, students are often ‘poor judges’ of their own learning, favoring strategies that require low cognitive effort—such as highlighting text and passively listening to lectures” (Terada, 2021).

• Highlighting can give students a false sense of mastery, making them believe they’ve been productive and effective in their learning.

Here are 4 better ways for students to annotate texts:

  1. Post-it Response Notes
  • Encourages active reading and student engagement in the text.
  • Enhances student interest and enables focused reading.
  • Incorporates writing.
  • Allows color coding of Post-its for different purposes.

Students can use Post-it notes to:

  • Track questions, thoughts, analysis, and points of confusion.
  • Identify important quotes, facts, or other information.
  • Record key ideas and note connections.
  • Mark places they want to refer back to later.

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  1. SSR: Survey, Skim, Read
  • Focuses students on reading and incorporates writing.
  • Sets a purpose for reading and annotating.
  • Teaches good reading strategies (text preview, text features, point of view, etc).
  • Helps students identify and note vocabulary.
  • Gives students multiple exposure to the text

First Read: SURVEY

  • Preview the title, subheadings, text, bold/italicized terms, & reference points

Second Read: SKIM

  •  Read the first sections or opening paragraphs.
  • Identify the purpose or thesis.
  • Write personal reactions, thoughts, or counter points.
  • Read in sections and make notes after each section.

Third Read: READ

  • Reread the entire text.
  • Add new information to annotations.
  • Write questions.
  • Identify unknown words.
  • Note supporting evidence.


  1. Collaborative Annotations
  • Encourages close reading.
  • Fosters critical thinking.
  • Promotes a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the text.
  • Fosters collaboration & communication about a text within the classroom.

What Does It Look Like?

  • Student groups can be mixed or the same ability.
  • Students share text.
  • All students annotate the same text.
  • Annotations build off each other.
  • Students add two responses & one question in reactions to peer annotations.
  • Students identify similarities, questions, & inspiration from the text.
  • Students get a collection of annotations that show different varieties of reading processes.

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  1. 3-Column Notes
  • Helps students sort & organize thinking.
  • Makes thinking visible.
  • Increases reading comprehension.
  • Offers students a structure & purpose for note-taking.
  • Prepares students for discussions, research, or presentations.
  • Helps teachers formatively assess students.
  • Is useful for all content areas.

What They Look Like: