Annotation Comrades: Final

Using to Talk to the Text

“The jottings we make in the books we own may well be among the highest tributes we pay to authors. They are signs of respect, signs of engagement. What more could a writer hope for?” Andrew Scrimgeour

In his article, “How to Mark a Book”, Mortimor J. Adler states that marking a book “keeps you awake. And I don’t mean merely conscious; I mean awake.)…reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written.” Written annotations next to the text are akin to having a conversation with it; it is a way to deeply engage and respond to the text. It also enhances memory that helps you retain and understand the information.


Annotation involves note taking for better reading comprehension. Marking the text while you read helps you focus on your purpose for reading- concentrating on the relationship between the main ideas and the details in the margins of your lecture notes or in the margins of your books. These responses in the margins also serve as a recall column when you review for a reading, lecture notes for class discussion, or a writing assignment or an exam.

In this particular activity, we will begin to examine the author’s voice and purpose in writing the text. The goal is to establish an initial way of examining the text via annotations, which is a way to explore and assess the possible reasons the author may have written a particular piece. The end result is for you to gain a critical understanding of the text by deeply thinking and stating why you think the author wrote it. You will then use your annotations to write an analytical response (details below).


  1. After previewing the passage below, an excerpt from Baca’s memoir,  and establishing a purpose for reading, read carefully and reflectively. In other words, think about why you are reading this piece. Speed should not be emphasized.
  2. After reading the section below, stop and think about the key ideas and messages within the text. What is Baca wanting his reader to think about? Why does he reference language, and how has become essential for him? Who is Baca writing this piece for? Do you think it is a particular audience? Why?
  3. Using Hypothesis, write your comments and ideas, with a focus of why Baca is writing this piece, as brief summaries in the margins of the text. You can use responses of 5-7 words, to help you keep your margin notes brief.
  4. After you have annotated, complete the written assignment below-Assignment:Following the guidelines above, annotate the passage below. (Recall our discussion of Baca’s book to help you annotate.) Refer to your annotations to write a reading response that answers the following question –

    Why does Baca reference language? How did poetry help him in prison? What do you think his purpose is in writing this particular passage? Your response should be at least a page long.

Consider using the strategies below to annotate:

  • Underline or highlight key phrases or words that signal main ideas or simply anything that caught your attention, and respond in writing. In other words, think and write about why you underlined or highlighted that specific part of the text.
  • Circle new vocabulary words and draw an arrow to the margin (add word form and guess the definition), then write the definition after you read the text.
  • Note examples of concepts.
  • Note confusing ideas and attempt to guess why they are unclear.
  • Jot down possible questions.
  • Comment on the author’s ideas by giving your own opinion.
  • Note a personal experience you are reminded of and why.
  • Make a connection to another reading or class discussion.
  • Draw a picture or graph to help you “see” the relationship between main ideas and supporting details, the ideas in the text, and relationships between texts.

Evaluating your Annotations: How do you know if you’re doing it right?

  • You will have more to contribute towards class discussions and assignments about the readings.
  • You should be able to refer to your markings so that you can participate in the assignments and discussions.
  • Most importantly, you should have insight as to why this author wrote the passage. This insight should lead to a deeper understanding of the text.

Baca’s text:

Language gave me a way to keep the chaos of prison at bay and prevent it from devouring me; it was a resource that allowed me to confront and understand my past, even to wring from it some compelling truths, and it opened the way toward a future that was based not on fear or bitterness or apathy but on compassionate involvement and a belief that I belonged.

I have been a writer even since, a poet. Poetry became something to aspire to, to live up to. It informed how I saw the world and my purpose in it. It was never the answer to everything and could not become so. At times, I had to put my pen down and fight with my fists, and sometimes I yearned for answers to allay the excruciating pain of merely surviving, there were none. But poetry helped make me the person I am today, awakening creative elements that had long lain dormant in me, opening my mind to ideas, and enabling my intellect to nourish itself on alternative ways of being. Poetry enhanced my self-respect. It provided me with a path for exploring possibilities for my life’s enrichment that I follow to this day.

The person I have become, who sits writing in this chair at this desk, has been forged by enormous struggle and unexpected blessings, despite the dehumanizing environment of a prison intended to destroy me. Prison was the most frightening nightmare I ever experienced. It stripped me down to nothing, until I huddled in the dark corner of a cell, sometimes shivering with fear, other times filled with so much anger and self-loathing that it would have been better to die. I have never told the full story of my transformation, a story I now believe is important, especially for my sons, playing in their room (5).



2 thoughts on “Annotation Comrades: Final”

  1. Very nice! Why not use a larger excerpt from Baca’s memoir? But, perhaps the students have already worked with the whole memoir or a larger section. I’m putting myself in the student’s place (to whatever extent I can) to figure out what you want from me, Professor Avila, when you ask: ” Why is she/he writing this particular piece?” I’m not sure if I can answer this from the text. But, maybe a different way of phrase something similar is: “How does the writer explain the value of writing?” That one I can start using to dig into the Baca excerpt. The first question seems to lead more out of the text or the excerpt.

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