Here is an easy to use 5-step annotation protocol that helps students build confidence in approaching difficult primary source texts. The protocol is provided, along with sample worksheets based upon excerpts from John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill.”
I have used multiple versions of the worksheet as they are provided here—I often model the annotation process using an Elmo document camera in class. Students then practice the skill independently, in small groups on larger paper, or as a group with volunteers coming up to the Elmo. I use this protocol throughout the year and encourage students to “show their thinking” through their annotations. I often require students to first annotate a text before giving them a traditional worksheet with questions in order to force them to follow the process and to slow down their thinking. I also grade their reading of a text so that they receive credit for their efforts/practice even if they have misunderstandings. A very simple rubric is included here; I cut and tape it to their page as a quick and easy grading sheet.
I prefer this general 5-step protocol because it’s simple, allows me to grade students’ independent reading, helps students to interact with high-level texts, and provides an entryway for readers of mixed abilities. I also use this to help encourage students to develop their own personal style of annotations so that they build good reading habits. Some of my students prefer highlights, others pencils—I am more concerned that students develop a personal system that works for them and that they don’t shut down when meeting difficult texts.
I have developed a related protocol for political cartoons, which I will share soon.