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Mrs. Snipes’ Indispensible Guide
Ever English tea!her will re!o""end that ou annotate our te#ts. So"e students are
naturall gi$ted at annotating and "arginating a te#t. %thers are !on$used b this
pro!ess. Ever ear I tea!h I still have students who are pu&&led when I as' the" to
annotate their readings. You should know that highlighting and underlining alone is
not annotation! Knowing that a passage is important is not the same as knowing
WHY it is important. In the $ollowing pages are so"e re!o""endations on strategies
$or annotating that should help !lear up an !on$usion. (or those students who are
s'illed in annotating alread) new ideas !an alwas help ou re$ine our s'ills) so don’t
assu"e these strategies !an’t help ou. I 'now "ost o$ ou have read *How to Mar' a
+oo', whi!h is !lever and witt and e#tre"el help$ul. -hat $ollows are .ust so"e
additional strategies that have helped " students in the past.
/his see"s basi!) but !an a!tuall be reall help$ul when ou are going ba!' through a
te#t to re"e"ber and lo!ate where so"ething happened 0li'e when ou are writing an
essa) $or e#a"ple1. 2ot down in the "argins 'e words or phrases that si"pl
su""ari&e3paraphrase what .ust happened.
Another tri!' is to 'eep a list o$ i"portant events in a !hapter 0or a!t3s!ene) i$ reading a
pla1 in the blan' spa!e at the beginning o$ the $irst page o$ the !hapter. 4suall the $irst
page o$ a !hapter begins about a third to hal$wa down the page) leaving ou with
valuable "argin spa!e. /his te!hni5ue is espe!iall help$ul) again while writing an essa
and tring to re"e"ber what happened in what part o$ the reading. Another use$ul
strateg in ter"s o$ su""ar is to give a !hapter that has onl been assigned a nu"ber a
title o$ our own !o"position that in so"e wa su""ari&es the "ain a!tion o$ the
!hapter. (or those o$ ou who are "athe"ati!all in!lined) this tpe o$ annotation
should "a'e up onl about 678 o$ our total annotating o$ a te#t. Su""ari&ing and
paraphrasing should not do"inate our notes9 rather) the should $un!tion to help ou
orient oursel$ as to the basi! a!tion o$ the plot.
II. Literary Elements:
%') so this is a long) but "ost de$initel not e#haustive) list. :on’t be inti"idated. Start
o$$ slowl and 'eep pra!ti!ing9 I pro"ise ou will eventuall get better and $aster. /his
list is basi!) and is not the e#tent o$ what ou will need to 'now or be able to do. +ut this
is a solid start and should serve ou well.
Plot Structure/Devices: You re"e"ber the diagra" $ro" .unior high; It’s still
i"portant. <e"e"ber that the beginning o$ a novel or short stor is the e#position and
that it establishes all the basi!s ou need to 'now. A help$ul strateg here is to draw
so"e diagra"s that establish !hara!ter !onne!tions. A $a"il tree or bubble diagra"
!an be parti!ularl help$ul i$ ou are tring to re"e"ber who is who and how the are
related. /r to identi$ the !ru!ial "o"ent or !li"a# o$ the plot. Identi$ the resolution
or denoue"ent. Identi$ and "a'e note o$ an i"portant transitions or shi$ts 0twists
and turns1 in the plot.
Characters & Development: 2ot down indi!ation o$ how !hara!ters are developing
and what a$$e!ts !hange or growth. =ote phsi!al des!ription o$ !hara!ters and be aware
that writers use a !hara!ter’s phsi!al appearan!e to indi!ate !hara!ter 5ualities and
$laws. =ote parti!ular $eatures or dis$igure"ents. +e aware o$ detailed des!riptions o$ a
!hara!ter’s inner thoughts) $eelings) i"pressions) suspi!ions) et!. Also) !onsider what
"otivates our !hara!ters and how the a!t on those "otivations. Ma'e note o$ dialogue
as indi!ation o$ !hara!ter develop"ent) as well.
Conflict: Consider the di$$erent tpes o$ !on$li!t. 0Again) re"e"ber ba!' to .unior
high: "an vs. "an) "an vs. nature) "an vs. hi"sel$) and so on>1 /he point is to be
aware o$ when !on$li!t rears its ugl head and how that !on$li!t is driving the plot.
/hough this "a see" prett basi!) it’s i"portant to 'eep in "ind that without the
!on$li!t) we have no stor?
Setting physical place! con"itions! time#: @now where the author has pla!ed
his3her stor. =ote i"portant lo!ations) phsi!al !onditions) weather) ti"e o$ da)
"onth) season) et!. As !li!hA as it "a see") stor"s or intense heat o$ten $un!tion as
$oreshadowing. Setting is also i"portant as it establishes a histori!al !onte#t $or what is
happening in the novel. Establishing an understanding o$ what was ta'ing pla!e
histori!all during the a!tion o$ the novel) and3or during the writing o$ a novel) !an
provide a deeper understanding o$ the !hara!ters and plot. +e aware o$ an shi$ts in
setting or ti"e.
$arration point of vie%! techni&ue! flash'ac(! authorial intent#: @now who
is telling our stor and !onsider wh. Identi$ the point o$ view right awa and !onsider
wh the author !hose this and wh it is e$$e!tive. Consider how the point o$ view a$$e!ts
ou as the reader. So"e literature has "an di$$erent !hara!ters narrating a stor. +e
aware o$ these shi$ts3transitions. +e aware o$ possible $lashba!'s) or thin' about an
shi$ts or departures $ro" a stri!tl !hronologi!al telling o$ the stor. Consider our
narrator’s !redibilit and reliabilit. :o ou trust hi"3her; Are ou "eant to; Establish
a relationship with the narrator. Consider the narrator’s tone or attitude. Also) !onsider
dra"ati! asides and narration or stage dire!tions when reading a pla.
Diction! Language & Sentence Structure: Alwas be aware o$ the language an
author is using. Is it des!riptive) $lower) and ro"anti!) or is it !on!ise) terse) or
e!ono"i!; Are the senten!es !o"ple# in stru!ture) brie$ and si"ple) or to the point; Is
the language poeti!; Consider poeti! devi!es li'e si"ile) "etaphor) alliteration) et!.
=oti!e an i"ager. /hin' about and "a'e note o$ parti!ular di!tion and where the
author’s word !hoi!e is espe!iall e$$e!tive. Ma'e note o$ an use o$ diale!t or regional
a!!ents. =ote use o$ elevated vo!abular and loo' up and words ou don’t 'now. :on’t
be la& when ou !o"e a!ross new words? -rite a brie$ de$inition in the "argins 0this is
the best wa to in!rease our vo!abular) hands down?1 Ma'e note o$ how the language
a$$e!ts ou as the reader.
Sym'ols! )otifs! & *rchetypes: /he tri!' here is not onl to identi$ the") but to
establish what they mean and how they function. @now the di$$eren!e between
s"bols) "oti$s) and ar!hetpes. I$ ou don’t 'now the di$$eren!e) stop right now) go get
a di!tionar and annotate this do!u"ent b writing the de$initions in the "argins?
:uring our reading) i$ ou thin' so"ething might be a s"bol) "oti$) ar!hetpe) "a'e
note o$ it and pla!e a 5uestion "ar' ne#t to our thought. You will $eel so grati$ied when
ou dis!over that ou were right? *I 'new it?, ou’ll sa to oursel$.
+hemes: /here is an i"portant di$$eren!e between the"es and "oti$s. /hese two
ter"s are o$ten used inter!hangeabl and erroneousl. @now this di$$eren!e. 0Again)
here is a great opportunit $or ou to pra!ti!e annotating in this do!u"ent1. +e aware o$
how our tea!her de$ines and uses these ter"s. Also) understand that identi$ing the"e
"a not ta'e pla!e until ou are nearl $inished) or even $inished) reading a te#t. And
while we’re on the sub.e!t) .ust be!ause ou $inish reading doesn’t "ean ou are $inished
annotating. Alwas tr to go ba!' and add "ore?
Irony ver'al! situational! "ramatic#: @now the di$$eren!e between the di$$erent
tpes o$ iron. Yes) loo' it up or as' our tea!her right now. I will tell ou this: a reader
who is aware o$ iron is a sophisti!ated reader. Ma'e it our goal to alwas be loo'ing
$or iron. It is al"ost alwas present and it is usuall subtle. Identi$ it) but also 'now
why it’s i"portant and how it $un!tions.
,oresha"o%ing: Again) identi$ it and !onsider how it $un!tions. I$ ou thin'
so"ething "ight be $oreshadowing) "a'e note o$ it. I$ it is) then ou have an *I 'new it?,
"o"ent9 i$ it isn’t) who !ares; At least ou’re tring and at least ou’re awa'e?
Critical +heories/*pproaches: /his !an be !o"pli!ated and there’s a long list.
Here’s a list o$ the "ain !riti!al approa!hes: $e"inist) $or"alist) de!onstru!tion)
Mar#ist) et!. :on’t worr about 'nowing or not 'nowing what the are. I$ our tea!her
wants ou to be aware o$ a parti!ular !riti!al approa!h) he or she will "ost li'el point it
out to ou ahead o$ ti"e. Your tas' is to be aware o$ how it is developed and where there
are spe!i$i! e#a"ples o$ this develop"ent. In general though) i$ the wor' ou are
reading addresses wo"en’s roles within a given so!iet) ou should !onsider a $e"inist
approa!h. I$ the te#t addresses "an’s role in so!iet or !ertain groups o$ people in a
so!iet) ou should !onsider it $ro" a Mar#ist perspe!tive. /his is an oversi"pli$i!ation)
o$ !ourse) but this is "eant to get ou started.
Again) to those o$ ou who are "athe"ati!all in!lined) I argue that our annotations on
literar ele"ents and devi!es should !o"prise the bul' o$ our annotations) and I
esti"ate this to be at about B78 o$ our wor'.
III. Personal -eactions an" .uestions:
/hough not ne!essaril a!ade"i!) I don’t underesti"ate the i"portan!e o$ this tpe o$
engage"ent with a te#t. I$ so"ething ou read stri'es ou as $unn) intense) !on$using)
enlightening) et!. $eel $ree to honor those rea!tions and re!ord the" in the "argins? =ot
onl is this per$e!tl a!!eptable 0we English tea!hers do it) too1) but it indi!ates that ou
are paing attention) engaging with the te#t) and internali&ing what ou read.
I$ ou have a spe!i$i! 5uestion about what ou are reading) write that 5uestion down.
<esear!h it on our own or as' our tea!her in !lass the ne#t da.
I$ what ou read re"inds ou o$ so"ething else) whether that be another te#t ou’ve
read) a "ovie ou saw) so"ething ou heard on!e) a person ou 'now) a personal
situation) a "e"or) et!. honor that !onne!tion and re!ord our rea!tion. /his is .ust
$urther eviden!e o$ our internali&ation o$ the te#t. (urther"ore) !onne!ting)
!o"paring) !ontrasting te#ts is an i"portant s'ill) and one that will be valuable to ou in
!ollege) where our pro$essors e#pe!t ou to be able to do this and draw $ro" our
previous e#perien!e and 'nowledge.
/hough this tpe o$ annotation is i"portant) it should not do"inate. In $a!t) this should
!o"prise C78 or less o$ our total annotations.
*pplications ,or -ea"ing $on/,iction +e0ts:
-hen reading nonD$i!tion te#ts) our annotations will be slightl di$$erent. Erobabl ou
will not have the sa"e literar ele"ents at wor'. Most de$initel ou will not have an
plot to anal&e. +ut ou should !onsider overall stru!ture. How does the writer present
the argu"ent and prove it; /hin' about the writer’s argu"ent and tone and how these
are a!hieved. Anal&e the di!tion and snta# used to e#press point o$ view. Foo' at
senten!e stru!ture. Consider the writer’s purpose: to e#plain) to persuade) to des!ribe) to
entertain) to editoriali&e) et! and how he or she a!hieves this. :e$ine an un'nown
ter"s. +e aware o$ rhetori!al devi!es 0I have handouts on these spe!i$i!all $or the AE
students1 and e#a"ine their e$$e!tiveness. Also) !onsider an logi!al $alla!ies in the
author’s argu"ents. +e aware o$ and re!ord our personal rea!tions and 5uestions.
*pplications ,or -ea"ing Poetry:
Again) no plot or !hara!ters to e#a"ine here) but do ta'e ti"e to paraphrase and
su""ari&e what is happening in the poe". /his !an be a!!o"plished b stan&a or other
stru!tural brea's. Foo' $or language devi!es) rh"e s!he"e) and "eter. %n!e ou’ve
identi$ied these ele"ents) !onsider how their presen!e !ontributes to overall "eaning.
+e aware o$ i"ager. Consider the spea'er’s voi!e) tone) and persona) not .ust the poet’s.
Foo' $or repeated patterns and "oti$s. Consider an overall "essage or the"e that the
poet is presenting through the wor'. In "an !ases) our tea!her will have ou read
poetr that is in so"e wa the"ati!all !onne!ted to a novel) pla) et!. /hin' about and
annotate $or these potential !onne!tions.
*pplications ,or -ea"ing Drama:
/hin' about dra"a as per$or"an!e literature. /he plawright uses the tools available to
hi" or her through stage dire!tion) a!tors) dialogue) sets and props to bring a stor to
li$e. Consider all these as ou annotate. As with a short stor or novel) ou need to
address plot stru!ture) !hara!ters) and other literar devi!es. /hin' about wh the stor
is told in this genre: wh is a pla "ore e$$e!tive than a novel) short stor) or poe";
How would an audien!e rea!t to what is per$or"ed and how does the plawright want to
a$$e!t the audien!e; As with $i!tion literature) annotate $or !hara!ters) !on$li!t)
$oreshadowing) plot stru!ture) and the rest.
* ,e% ,inal +houghts:
Annotating and "arginating a te#t is a learning pro!ess. E#peri"ent and $ind the
"ethods that wor' best $or ou. So"e students use !olor "ar'ing te!hni5ues) or $an!
postDits. %thers pre$er si"ple highlighter and pen. How ou do it "atters less that how
e$$e!tive it is $or ou and how well ou internali&e the literature. /he "ain ob.e!tive in
annotating a te#t is that ou have a deeper and "ore individual understanding o$ what
As' to read our $riends’ annotations and !o"pare our notes. Add to our own) as
needed. +etter et) as' to see our tea!hers’? -hat we write in our boo's is no trade
Annotating ta'es a long ti"e. /his will "a'e ou a slower reader) but a "ore
!ons!ientious one) and ulti"atel) a "ore sophisti!ated one. Ideall) ou should evolve
to the point that it is a!tuall a little aw'ward $or ou to read without annotating?
A 5uestion I’" o$ten as'ed b students is) *How "u!h annotating is enough;, /his) to
an English tea!her) is li'e as'ing how long an essa needs to be. M answer is going to
be the sa"e) and sadl) .ust as vague and irritating: as "u!h3as long as it needs to be.
Ad"ittedl) I’" "ost i"pressed b !opious annotations in a te#t. +ut I a" also
interested in the 5ualit) thought) and sophisti!ation behind our annotations.
Also) ou should 'now that I a!tuall read our annotations) and our pen"anship is
5uite i"portant. I$ I !an’t read what ou write 0and I’" prett $orgiving when it !o"es to
handwriting1 I get !ran'.
Invest in a di!tionar o$ literar ter"s. /here are several di$$erent ones out there $or
ou. I have pur!hased "an over the ears) and I have to ad"it that the %#$ord edition
that I used in high s!hool is still " $avorite. A!5uire one or "ore and 'eep on hand to
re$er to and read $ro" ti"e to ti"e. =ot onl will this help ou now) it will !ontinue to
help ou in !ollege. /rust "e) I’" not "a'ing this up. 0/his is going to be espe!iall
help$ul to those o$ ou who are !onsidering a "a.or in English. You 'now who ou are.
You 'now ou’re a$raid to ad"it it. :on’t be: own our nerdiness. -ave our $rea' $lag
high and proud?1
E.S. Spe!ial than's to 2essi!a Ste"pnia' and (arhad Gha"sari) " $or"er students
who inspired "e to write this and shared with "e that) though all their English tea!hers
re5uire annotations) no one had ever taught the" how to do this or e#plained e#a!tl
what the e#pe!t. I’" guilt as !harged. I hope this helps.