Mark It Up

TRUTH In Teaching’s reading resources and strategies include the before reading strategies of creating a context for the reading and setting a purpose for reading. “Mark It Up,” a during reading strategy, keeps kids engaged while reading.

During Reading Strategy to Increase Student Engagement:  Mark It Up

I always chuckled when I instructed kids to begin reading independently and they asked for Post-It notes because some of their previous teachers made them “flag” anything that they found interesting, puzzling, or otherwise worth mentioning. While marking the text during reading can be a helpful strategy for kids, they often get so caught up sticking the notes in the text that they lose the flow of the reading and their thoughts about it as they start and stop several times.

Rather than stop their reading to stick notes in the text, I encouraged my kids to “mark it up.” (By the way, this saves you from having little Post-It notes all over the room or in their class materials, because those notes never stay put.) I often copied our reading materials so kids could take ownership of it. I wanted them to know that they could take notes, underline, circle, draw arrows, highlight, etc., just like college students and lifelong learners do. I often showed students my professional reading materials so they could see my own highlighting and notes in the text; I wanted them to know that “marking it up” truly is a lifelong reading skill.

As with any other strategy, modeling is key. I began by giving copies of the same text to students. I used a think aloud to walk students through my thinking process while I read aloud. (*Hint: – If you have a document camera or a some sort of technology that makes this feasible for doing in a whole-class setting, it makes things much easier because students can see what you are doing while you do it.) I highlighted the text and annotated in the margins while I thought aloud. I also took pauses every few paragraphs to ask students if they had any questions and to give them time to reread and share their own annotations with the group.

Some kids will be amazed that they are allowed to write on their class materials. Some kids will need prompting and encouragement from you because they are so used to reading something just to get it done and not thinking about or engaging with text while they read it. Some kids will need you to read aloud to them so they can concentrate on annotating while you read.

Of course, you should modify and adapt this strategy to fit your classroom and your students’ needs. Just make sure that you model first and give students options for “marking it up.” It’s also helpful to put a key on the board for students who need reminders about the types of things they can do to their text when they “mark it up.”

Teachers can make reading more manageable for their students by using before and during reading strategies. The “mark it up” strategy is appropriate for nearly any grade level or content area, except the earliest grades that spend more time teaching kids how to read. If you have some surefire before or during reading strategies, I’d love to hear about them. Email Bailey at

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