Never before have students been so immersed in nonfiction works. From online newspapers and magazines, to Wikipedia, to even social networking sites, students have greater exposure to nonfiction than fiction. While most schools do a good job of teaching students how to read and analyze fiction, poetry, and drama, most students need much more direction in reading and analyzing nonfiction.
Most English teachers, however, think nonfiction reading is a skill that Social Studies and Science teachers should teach, and most teachers outside of English Departments fail to realize that reading nonfiction is quite different from the reading that most students complete in English courses. Reading and analyzing nonfiction is such an important skill that it should be taught and reinforced in all courses.
One of the best methods for including more analysis of nonfiction is to give students an article and have them write a one-paragraph annotation for the article. While the difficulty level and length of the article will differ based on the grade level and course, writing an annotation is an assignment that almost all middle school and high school students can and should complete.
Steps for Writing an Annotation
- Give students a copy of an article or essay to read. For their first attempt at an annotation, make sure you provide an article that is short, easy to understand, and of sufficiently high interest. The article may appear in your textbook or it may be a duplicated article from a newspaper or magazine. For English classes, the article most often will be a persuasive essay or an essay that presents an argument. For other areas, the article may be primarily informative.
- Ask students to read the article carefully and to highlight or underline (if not in a textbook) the major points the author makes.
- Teach students to write the proper citation for the article based on the format you require for your class (MLA, APA, University of Chicago, etc.). This should be written at the top of the page. If you do not normally require students to write formal citations in your class or if you have younger students, you can require students to write only the title, copyright, and the author of the article.
- Next, have students write a one-paragraph summary of the main points the author makes in the article. Limit students to approximately one-half of a page, depending on penmanship.This is a difficult step for many students, even our best students, because they want to list each piece of information they find instead of summarizing the main points succinctly.
- At the end of the summary, tell students to write 2-3 sentences that state the usefulness of the article and note possible bias that the student might have located. For example, students might write that the article gives a good explanation of a new procedure, or it presents the author's beliefs about a complicated issue, or the article is not sufficiently informative because the author tells only one side of an issue, or the article is not a good source because it includes out-of-date information. The final sentences where students evaluate an article will be the most difficult sentences for most students to write initially.
- After writing annotations, allow several students to share their work by reading their paragraphs to the class. Many students who struggle with this assignment initially may learn best by seeing or hearing sample annotations.
- Finally, students will benefit from discussing the article in class.
Reading and annotating articles improves reading and writing skills while also improving students' ability to work with complex subject matter. With repeated practice in reading and writing annotations, students will become much faster and more proficient in reading nonfiction texts of all types.
If you want an article to try an annotation with your students, try one of these: