A photograph of a female high school student reading a page of homework in the library

Source: Union High School Library, Utah State Library, Flickr

You have text, highlighters, and pencils in front of you. You are ready to annotate, but you don’t know what to mark in the text. How do you choose a focus for your highlighting and marginal notations? In this section, you will use a newspaper headline to pose questions about an article before you read it, as though you are having an imaginary conversation with the author of the article. The idea is to let the title of the text (in this case, the headline) help you focus your annotations.

Follow these two annotating steps to determine what you will mark and what you will note in the margins.

Step 1

Begin with the title and underline key words that hint at the topic and the author’s position on the topic.

Step 2

In the margin, pose a question that you might ask the author after reading the title. This question will guide your annotation of the article.

Now read the headline below:

Bans on School Junk Food Pay Off in California

photo of a donut statue. The donut has arms and legs and holds a “Donuts” sign above his head. In the background is a sign over a storefront that reads “Hot Donuts, Jacket Potatoes, Baguettes”

Source: Donuts, Gerry Balding, Flickr

If you had been annotating this headline, you might have underlined the term “junk food” as the topic of the article to follow. Next you might have posed this question: “How did bans on junk food pay off?” This question could then guide your annotation as you read the New York Times article by Anahad O’Connor.

Practice Steps 1 and 2 with two headlines that appeared in the New York Times. Find the key terms that provide clues about the topic of each article. When you think you know them, click on the key words in each headline to highlight them.

icon for interactive exercise

Headline 1

After the Plane Gets You to the Airport, an App Comes in Handy

Headline 2

Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact

take notes icon Now that you have highlighted the key words, pose at least one question in response to each headline. The question(s) will serve as your focus for annotating each article later on. Write your question(s) in your notes. When you’re finished, check your understanding to the see the question(s) I posed for each headline.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

For each headline, you might have asked these questions:

Headline 1 — What is the app? How will it come in handy?

Headline 2 — Why were “rules” necessary? In what ways will “contact” be limited?


In this activity, your thoughtful questions about the New York Times headlines created the focus for annotating the articles when you read them. You could use this same annotation strategy, however, with other kinds of materials such as textbooks and novels. Instead of choosing key words and devising questions from a headline, you could find key words and ask questions about chapter titles, subtitles, headings, and subheadings.

For now, you will annotate an excerpt from the article of the second headline. You will mark the text to answer the question(s) based on the headline. Before you begin, review the example below to see how you might mark this text.


After the Plane Gets You to the Airport, an App Comes in Handy


Bob Tedeschi, May 3, 2012

Questions Posed:

What is the app? How will it come in handy?


Next time I might be able to save some steps, and possibly some money, by using an airport guide app. In addition to helping find food vendors and shops that may not rip you off, the apps can help you avoid overpaying for ground transportation once you reach your destination.

The top three on my list are iFly Pro ($7 on Apple and Android, but with free versions available), Airport Transit Guide ($5 on Apple, with a limited free version) and GateGuru (free on Android and Apple).

[GateGuru’s] best feature is its ability to quickly present a decent range of information about restaurants, shops and amenities in 105 domestic and 85 international airports.

airplane wing with background of clouds

Source: Airplane wing (2005), Zoagli, Flickr

The highlighted phrases (save some steps, money, find food vendors and shops, avoid overpaying for ground transportation) answer the question “How will the app come in handy?” that I posed when I read the first headline. The apps include iFlyPro, Airport Transit Guide, and GateGuru. I highlighted these names in response to the question “What is the app?”

Now it’s your turn. Read the excerpt below from the article “Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact.” Think about the questions posed earlier. (They are shown in the box below to help you remember.) As you read, click on the text that helps answer the questions. If you click correctly, the text will highlight. You should find eight highlighted areas in the text.

This exercise will help you understand what text to mark when you annotate.

icon for interactive exercise


Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact


David W. Chen and Patrick McGeehan, May 2, 2012

Questions Posed:

Why were “rules” necessary?
In what ways will “contact” be limited?


New York City public schoolteachers may not contact students through personal pages on Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, but can communicate via pages set up for classroom use, the city’s Education Department said on Tuesday after it released its first list of guidelines governing the use of social media by employees.

The guidelines do not ban teachers from using social media and, in fact, recognize that it can offer tremendous educational benefits. Nor do they address cellphones and text messaging between teachers and students, which, according to a review by The New York Times of dozens of Education Department investigations in the past five years, have been more widespread and problematic.

But the guidelines do reflect growing concerns nationwide about the instantaneous ease with which teachers can interact electronically with students, and the potential for misuse or abuse. New York City’s guidelines, which were reported on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, represent the latest official response to a number of episodes involving teachers accused of behaving inappropriately with students.

Annotating makes you a better reader by allowing you time to pause and reflect on what you’ve read. You read the New York Times articles with focus and purpose that you created yourself by posing questions. Keep up the good work!