Whenever you sit down to read and annotate a short story, you should first decide what kinds of annotations you want to make. In the best case scenario, you own the book and can write directly in it. Otherwise, you should have a sheet of notepaper close by or a document open on your computer or tablet.
Here are a few kinds of possible annotations with examples from Alice Walker's “Her Sweet Jerome”:
Make a note about the title. What does it suggest to you? In this case, Jerome seems to be someone who is much loved. When you reach the end of the story, revisit your initial note. Were you right? Or is the title ironic?
Underline words or phrases that stand out to you, and make a note in the margin about why they are significant. In the story's first paragraph, for instance, you might underline “like skinny milktoast rats” and jot “Vivid simile!” in the margin. A few paragraphs later you might underline “she was sporting her 'shades'” and note that this is a painful irony since the character is “sporting” sunglasses to hide the black eye her husband gave her.
Circle vocabulary words you don't know or aren't sure of. Do you know what “milktoast” means? If not, circle it, but don't stop there. Look it up, and write the definition in the margin.
React to something in each paragraph and jot your reaction in the margin. This helps you read the story attentively and interact with it more fully. As you read the story's second paragraph, for example, you might note that this woman is really rather ugly and could well be conscious of it and insecure since she uses “expensive mauve shadow” (and presumably other makeup).
Ask questions. Is there something you don't understand? Make note of that. Or are you merely questioning the motives of a character or the significance of an event? Note that, too. As you read the third paragraph, you notice that the character says she “fell in love” with Jerome, but only because he was “little and cute and young” and was a schoolteacher. You might ask yourself, “Is this really love?”
Jot down any personal connections to the story. As you read the description of the gossipy women in the beauty shop, you might recall someone you know who is just like that.
Argue with the author or with a character. If Jerome annoys you to no end with his patronizing ways, write a little note to him in the margin, telling him what you would say if he were sitting before you in person.
Note the parts of the story as it progresses. Mark sections that focus on characterization; note points of building action; identify the climax; mark the resolution. In this story, you might put a star by sections that develop the main characters or write “Climax!” toward the very end where the woman realizes that her husband has not been cheating on her with another woman but rather preoccupied with his ideas of revolution.
At the end of the story, write a brief summary in your own words. If you had to sum up “Her Sweet Jerome” in two sentences, what would you say?
Annotating a story takes time and effort, but if you do it well, you will discover that you understand the story much better than you would have otherwise. You might even find yourself connecting with your reading more than you ever did before.