1 Do you want your students to easily create discussion-worthy questions while reading complex texts?

Is the “release” portion of the gradual release of responsibility taking much too long?

If so, try a couple of these student-friendly (and teacher- friendly) strategies designed to provide students with …

…techniques that inspire quality, student-driven discussions,

…the structure to inspire content-rich observations, and

…the ability to transfer skills across content areas.                                              

                                             THE PROBLEM

Close reading experts like Douglas Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst all promote “reading with pen” as an effective technique to help readers uncover layers of meaning.

The challenge for the classroom teacher, however, is that students with a wide range of reading proficiencies are expected to tackle the same tasks – even when their skill sets vary greatly.

So teachers have to scramble to find ways to 1) differentiate instruction to accommodate multi-level learners or 2) simply teach to the middle-level learner.

The first option is time-consuming for the teacher and the second is frustrating for partially-proficient and advanced-proficient readers alike.

So which annotation strategies are beneficial and accessible to all students?

                                             THE SOLUTION

Let’s look at few strategies that will help kids – at any reading level – uncover discussion-worthy portions of complex text.

#1 Annotation Codes

Most students enjoy text coding so find a set of grade-appropriate text codes which require students to mark key sentences, phrases, and words that will help crack the code in difficult passages or analyze an author’s purpose.

2 You can download the code key I give to middle school and secondary students here for free.

#2 Response Stems

Post response stems around the room which, by design, guide students to create questions that will lead them more deeply into text. An alternate way to help students respond to the text is to have them create a deck of sentence stems which they will use as reference tools throughout the year.

res Here are a few sample stems which support the Common Core Standards:

Key Ideas and Details (Standards 1-3) The most important… The evidence I found…

Craft and Structure (Standards 4-6) I figured out the meaning… It was easy to picture…

Integration of Knowledge (Standards 7-9) The difference between… If I could give advice…

A full set of response code posters and reference cards is available here.

#3 Post-It Tags

Have students place Post-It Notes directly onto the text while the teacher reads aloud. Completed tags will be used during a class discussion or to guide a pair-share session.

Students may be given different color Post-Its so they can tag the text for different skills (e.g. pink Post-It holders tag sections worthy of craft analysis and green Post-It holders tag favorite parts).

This is a great way to differentiate instruction and to provide students with focus during reading.

3 My favorite sticky tags are the 3 x 3 Post-It Brights because they make the assignment seem a little more special.


Once students are comfortable annotating and discussing readings using response stems, annotation codes and Post-It Tags, they will be ready to create outlines, paragraphs and essays which will demonstrate their understanding of the text and clarify their thinking.

These writing pieces may also be used as formative or summative assessments.

One way to help students move from simple annotation techniques to more sophisticated ones is to give them a guide (or a cheat sheet) that will help students examine more difficult aspects of a text. Get Free Instant Access to Close Reading Cheat Sheets here. 

When your students are ready to use their close reading skills and annotations to write a paragraph or compose an outline for an essay, consider using a Close Reading and Annotation Tool Kit like this one:

co Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are. Janice Malone – Owner of ELA Seminars – ELAseminars.com