Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the meaning of "to annotate a passage"?  

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One annotates a passage that need explanation to be completely understood and appreciated.  Often, in works of literature, an editor will annotate the text in the margin (or at the bottom of each page) to give the reader further insight into sources or information that could really bolster the reader's understanding.

Anyone can create annotations, so your inquiry about annotating "a passage," simply implies the task of either:  making notes that analyze the specific wording found in the passage; providing source background information related to the passage; or referring the passage to another part of the same text.

Below, I've referred you to a couple of documents that could help you in planning annotation work for your students.

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chrisyhsun | Student

Annotating a passage means to make notes/marks on a passage in order to help you quickly understand what you have already read when you look at the piece again sometime in the future. If done correctly, annotating a passage can eliminate the necessity of re-reading the work again if you should ever work with it in the future. Of course, this means that annotating is an extremely personal process. You should highlight, underline, circle, sticky-note whatever it is that you need in order to easily revisit the work. Some people may be able to skim through minimal highlighting and remember what the passage was talking about. Others may need character names to be circled, important plot twists highlighted, and quotes underlined to remember all the points they want. That being said, all of these elements - character names/descriptions, important plot turns, and significant quotes - are common points that most people would annotate, particularly if the passage is longer.

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niellotus | Student

The simple meaning of the word "annotate"is to add explanatory notes.

When you take up a passage to study, especially in order to teach, it is appropriate to make small notes in the margin which would give you a clear picture of what the paragraph contains. As you teach, these brief notes that you have noted in the margin can be of great help to tell your students in a matter of few words what the whole passage is about. If, for instance, there is a lengthy paragraph of a certain novel that gives information of the hero having met someone new, you would very well say it in just a few words what the whole passage is about.

We have also been well acquainted with explanatory passages when we study either a play of Shakespeare or Greek Classics like that of Sophocles. These annotations, either at the bottom of a page or on the left page given by editors, throw more light on the lines we read and help us appreciate the work better.


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william1941 | Student

Annotate a passage would mean to take notes while you read the passage. I assume that as you are a teacher this is to get you prepared to be able to deal with the passage while you teach. There are a few things that you can do to make your annotation effective:

  • While you read mark any important terms and phrases that you find.
  • Think of questions that will arise in the minds of students when you teach the passage.
  • Write the questions in the margin near the sections where you can find the answer.
  • Place marks in the margin where important key words and key concepts can be found.

While annotating I think the margins are where you do all your work. And the more work you do, the easier it is to find answers to any questions that are asked and it also gives you a better idea of what the essence of the passage is.

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