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Increase Reading Motivation and Metacognition with Social Annotation

Mon Jan 8, 2024 at 07:30 AM

Reading serves as a critical component to engage students in learning. One strategy to motivate students and promote metacognition is to use social annotation. Attaching specific assigned goals to reading tasks serve not only to have students delve deeper into a subject matter, but they also enhance reading compliance. is a free open-source software platform that enables students to annotate and discuss online articles, webpages, PDFs, EPUBs, e-textbooks, and other open educational resources. Both Persuall and offer free software options to facilitate social annotation. has worked well for an upper level Political Science course that I teach. The platform enables me to shift the focus from what I think is important for students to know, to one that attempts to find out what the student identifies as valuable and/or noteworthy. 

Using social annotation creates opportunities to scaffold questions of increasing complexity to encourage students to probe for deeper understanding of the content and draw parallels relevant in today’s world.

Embedding Social Annotation Activities

To enhance student comprehension and critical reflection of course materials, I introduce tasks ranging in complexity by scaffolding annotation assignments. Using, I add assignments that have students annotate a digital text collaboratively. I guide them through the process with focus questions that promote student understanding of major points of emphasis within the readings of one’s discipline.  More specifically, focus questions provide students with a specific goal(s) to identify key concepts and/or points of interest during their reading and serve as motivation for reading compliance.

Introduce Students to Digital Annotation 

Introducing students to the process of digital annotation is essential. enables instructors to create small groups or facilitate an entire class annotating together. Because students have access to each other's annotations, the exchange of ideas moves the experience of annotating alone to one of interacting collaboratively. Often, I divide students into two groups and have them read an assigned article and annotate the passages that stand out to them. Prior to reading and annotating, both groups receive prompts such as the following to guide their experience. 

  • What ideas or concepts caught your attention?
  • How does the author(s) objectively or subjectively demonstrate her/his perspective?  Provide an example from the reading.
  • What are the major takeaways for you from this reading?  Explain your thinking.

Expand an Assignment Scope

Once students are comfortable using the platform, they can expand on the scope of the assignment to take advantage of digital technology. I ask them to include graphics, videos, or links to other appropriate sources to flesh out meaning and connections. The following prompt guides them in their discovery: How does the graphic you selected help you remember the information in this annotation and/or understand the passage?

Add Critical Reflection 

Having students apply what they learn from using social annotation is essential to enable students to draw parallels between the texts they read. In addition, the ability for students to comment on each other’s annotations fuels a deeper understanding of content. 

To embed a critical reflection aspect, I have students write a summary of their assigned article or list two to three key points they discovered. Next, I have students read through the postings of the other group’s assigned article. They have to select one student’s comments and respond to the following prompt and share with the one member from the other group: How is this article similar or different from the one you read and annotated?  

References and Resources 

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About the Author

Gregory Allar is a Special Lecturer in the International Studies Program.  Greg is a regular participant in the activities of the Center for Teaching and Learning.  His primary field of interest is Russian culture and contemporary Russian politics.

Edited by Rachel Smydra, Faculty Fellow, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University.

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