Helping readers become learners


Erik Ketcherside

Teresa Silva teaches first grade at Academia del Pueblo in Phoenix, Arizona. She has also taught sixth and seventh grade, so she was familiar with the concept of annotation and its value in increasing reading comprehension. After training with a module from the Sanford Inspire Program, Teresa now implements annotation in her curriculum for beginning readers, teaching them to read for understanding.

“It’s not just learning to read nicely, with intonation and pausing and things like that,” she says. “That fluency is important, but reading to understand what they’re reading can be a challenge.”

There is another benefit, according to the Sanford Inspire Program. If taught early enough, annotation accelerates verbal skill development. Grade-specific examples within the module make early introduction possible.

“It’s OK to start early, in bits and pieces, little by little,” Teresa says. “And if you use it enough times, and with enough practice, eventually they’ll get there.” She says the long-lasting value of her students’ annotation skill is assured as the process is reinforced throughout first grade and in subsequent years.

Annotation as an Interactive Reading Strategy is a free professional development module available on demand from the Sanford Inspire Program through Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Concern: Following text may not be engaging

Before she introduced annotation to her first-graders, Teresa’s reading lessons consisted of reading a story to her class as they followed the text on a screen. The students might have been able to follow the words, but the effect was transitory. “They would just read it and forget about what they read,” she says.

Teresa says this is a problem not just for comprehending a story, but for day-to-day tasks everyone encounters. “As they’re following directions, paying attention to the reading is really important.” She uses the example of setting up a piece of electronic equipment. “Some things are so complicated now you have to be able to read [the manual] to understand what you’re doing and follow the steps.”

Solution: Annotation reading strategy

Making notes within a text is familiar to experienced readers. But adapting the practice to be grade-specific allows it to work with all students, even beginning readers. Teresa says, “It was a bit of a challenge at first because at that time they weren’t fluent writers, so we were using bullet points, getting them used to underlining and highlighting. That was the first step into annotation for them. Now they can write in sentences to do it.”

Teresa says her first graders are now more engaged with what they read. “They’re not just learning the story,” she says, “but learning about the characters, deciding what the moral is and giving the story real meaning.” She says even for first graders, annotation gives them more depth and analytical skill.

Annotation as an Interactive Reading Strategy introduces a comprehension method for using symbols, comments and questions to record the thought process while reading. It helps students engage with the text and use divergent thinking, and also helps teachers differentiate for their students.


Teresa came across the annotation module by chance; it was one of the selections available in a professional development session offered to her school district by the Sanford Inspire Program. She admits to being surprised at what the module claimed was possible. And she was skeptical.

“At first I thought, annotation? That’s for middle school,” Teresa says. “How am I going to apply it to a first-grader? But when I watched the video [in the module] and saw it being used in first grade, I realized I can.” She says the strategy is to teach annotation in increments. “You’re not going to teach the whole skill all at once. Start with, ‘What is the main idea?’ and practice that for a couple of days, and then move on to the next concept.”

Teresa strongly recommends annotation for early implementation, particularly in light of recent changes in student achievement requirements. “With Common Core and all that rigor,” she says, “the analytical skills they learn with annotation will help them when they begin standardized tests.”

Teacher resource: Annotation as an Interactive Reading Strategy

Source: Sanford Inspire Program

Type: on-demand, single user

Cost: free

Estimated time required: 1.0 hour

Completion documentation: certificate

Teacher Standards (InTASC): Essential Knowledge: 5(h)

Topics: Planning and Delivery > Elements of Delivery

For more free professional development resources for teachers, administrators, schools and districts, visit the Sanford Inspire Program homepage, and the ASU Professional Learning Library, powered by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.