Using for social annotation

Most of the writing majors I teach are more or less comfortable reading or skimming screen-bound alphabetic texts and have at least some experience marking the margins of printed ones; however, when it comes actively engaging with these digital, screen-bound texts, I’ve found that they not only need tools for making and saving meaningful digital responses, but they also need methods for using reading response for co-inquiry. Put another way, digital annotation practices are capable of fostering public conversations — conversations that can be saved for writing they’ll do later. Hence, I have grown to teach students with a method of marking up and engaging with texts called social annotation.

Why social annotation?

Social annotation most obviously speaks to the second digital literacy value in FYWP — locating and participating in public conversations and/or communities that exist (entirely or in part) online — but it’s also responsive to other values that speak to the ways writers author source-driven texts in networked contexts, since the whole point of annotating, of course, is to eventually account for these texts through writing. As Jacob Craig argues, “social annotation provides students an opportunity to put into practice theories of meaning making by defamiliarizing routine behaviors involved in reading for class” (39). Adding something like provides a platform for students to slow down their reading and exchange ideas.

After I introduce students to a few different ways of annotating, I share social annotation as a way for readers to act like users and interact over a shared text. I remind them that there are many ways this technology already exists, whether through the “popular highlights” features on Kindle or Medium, and as comments within music tracks in Soundcloud (just to name a few).


While there are several web annotation tools out there, I settled on because it is free, nonproprietary, seemingly well resourced, relatively stable, and adaptable to different situations, including private groups. Here’s a quick intro about how it was developed and how it works:

What this looks like.

Once I introduce students to via their Quick Start Guide for Students and YouTube channel, I invite them to make usernames with their Rowan addresses, install the necessary Chrome extension, and request that they join a private group that I make ahead of time. Once they join, we practice annotating with a short text.

Here’s a group activity that not only orients them to the platform, but shows how contributions can vary and should be flexible depending on when the students enters the community. These aren’t the only roles for reading, however, and I’m expecting that I will continue to experiment with them in future semesters.

Activity: In a moment I will assign your group a role and ask you to use to annotate the article we read for today, “Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped.” Feel free to talk with you group and further assign tasks given your roles. You’ll have 15-20 minutes and then we’ll share what we found as a large group.

Markers. Go through the text and sort the major claims or points from the evidence. Use you annotation to paraphrase these claims and contextualize them further — what happened before this? What happens after this? How is the author shaping this claim (that is what rhetorical or writing strategies is she employing?)

Swimmers. Go upstream on links and sources. In your annotation, explain where the link takes readers, the content at that link, and how it contributes to the article’s point or sub-points.

Rankers. Rank all the sources used in the article and read laterally on the most important (i.e. 3 or 4 of them). In your annotation, make a note about how much the article relies on this source, who they are, and why they are important (or not) to the arguments presented.

Lexicographers. Discuss important or operational terms in the article (conspiracy or sociopolitical, for example). Use Wikipedia to not just define the term but teach other readers why what you are learning might be important in this article. You might also look into etymologies (exploring the history and origins of these terms).

Teachers. Identify money quotes and raise open-ended questions, especially about the subject for today (“American culture and post-truth”). These would be questions that provoke meaningful dialogue and discussion, but as an annotation you can begin with a statement before you ask the question. Often these statements help contextualize your question and gives readers footing.


Quick Start Guide for Students. An accessible post that explains to students how works.

Annotation Tips for Students. Whereas the above “Quick Start Guide,” introduces students to the technology of, this is a post explains how they can use the platform to produce different kinds of meaning. on YouTube. Includes tutorials for users as well as webinars, lectures, and other helpful material for educators.

Navigating a Varied Landscape: Literacy and the Credibility of Networked Information” by Jacob W. Craig from Literacy in Composition Studies‘ special issue on fake news (2017). A helpful article for situating social annotations and as a way to address misinformation and fake news.

Insert Learning. Like this Chrome Extension allows instructors to add a layer of discussions, questions, highlights to any website. I haven’t used it yet, but it looks promising.