Teacher Reflections

Annotating for Critical Literacy

SOURCE: New York Times

One simple way to teach students to critically examine texts from various lenses is to utilize targeted annotation techniques.  There are numerous guides for how to increase students’ comprehension by previewing texts, actively reading, summarizing, etc. One especially useful guide is from Susan Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs at Harvard University. Guides like this can be useful for showing teachers and students what approaches to use across all texts: underlining main ideas, circling key terms, etc.  However, when you want students to analyze texts more critically, it is vital to have students make more focused annotations which have the power to change students’ perspectives while they read.

For example, if you would like students to analyze the economic, environmental and humanitarian benefits and costs of building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, you could have students write econ +/-, env +/-, and hum +/- in the margin when they come across evidence that falls in one of those categories. Doing so would draw students’ attention beyond main ideas and supporting details the author used to support his or her argument to a more critical stance analyzing the issue from three different perspectives simultaneously.

After reading and annotating the text, students could be asked to summarize the various positives and negatives and come to their own conclusion as to whether the dam should have been built.  Through the strategic use of annotation techniques students ability to employ various critical lenses can improve significantly.


While reading, identify lines that show Economic, Environmental, and Social  positive (+) and negative (-) effects of building the 3 Gorges Dam.  

  •        Econ.: How will the dam help or hurt China’s economy?
  •        Env. : How will the dam help or hurt the environment?
  •        Hum.: How will people’s lives improve or change for the worse due to the dam?

This annotation technique was used with an edited version of the article The Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for their Human Cost

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