Annotating: Helpful or Not?


Annotations by Mac F. ’23

Annotating a reading is a common assignment, but how often does it reach its goal? Teachers normally have students annotate as a better way to remember and review readings, but the consensus of some students is that annotating is something we need to do, not something we want to do, or find particularly helpful. Most teachers stress that annotating helps us along our journey as students, and some choose to check for our annotations, but for what purpose?

According to Eastern Washington University, annotating is meant to assist students in comprehending the text, identifying moments to focus on, and gathering notes to come back to when you need them. Those are some of the most common arguments for annotating, and the vast majority of teachers find it essential when done correctly. Sometimes annotating can allow kids to let the text to sink into their minds, and create notes to come back to when preparing for an assessment. The reasoning above suggests that annotating is not a bad thing and is actually the exact opposite. Harvard describes annotating as one of “six reading habits to develop in your first year at Harvard.” With annotating getting the stamp of approval from Harvard, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, you’d think that people would embrace annotating as a positive thing or at least as a way to gain acceptance to a top school. But why isn’t this the case?

When we take a look at a file from Scientific American, we learn that when done incorrectly, annotating can be dangerous. This file goes as far as to state that highlighting and rereading text is one of the worse study methods known. In fact, “one study of education majors found that underlining reduced their ability to draw inferences from a history textbook.”  One opinion piece from the Beverly Hills High School student publication, Highlights, is titled “Annotating is a crime against nature.” The piece speaks about how annotating turns students away from reading for school, and how assigned annotating makes students focus less on the book and more on annotating. I personally found this pretty relatable.  Sometimes when I annotate, get bored to death because of the notion that I need to annotate for a good grade. Many times, I even skip some lines of text because I just need to get the reading done.

To find out more about how Berkeley Carroll feels about annotating, I interviewed English and American Studies teacher Ms. Clapps about annotating in the Humanities Department. She said that the Humanities Department in general tries to teach students a lot about annotating, and that the purpose of annotating is “to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for students to follow.” While it’s useful to have a lot of notes, she also says that annotating needs to have a limit, because if you annotate too much you could not know what to put in your essay.

I think that teachers should put less stress on the fact that we need to annotate, and instead put more emphasis on the need to truly know the book and its characters for in class activities and assessments. Teachers could then teach students correct ways to annotate – students should at least be able to know why they’re being told to annotate. As well, students should be taught how to enjoy school reading while getting effective notes.

Annotating could be considered an art, and every art takes some instruction to learn. Without instruction, we have to stumble through different paint brushes until we find the right one, and a process like that with annotating can have unintended consequences on kids’ learning.