Content Literacy 101

Sticky Notes/Highlighting (from "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?")

Cris Tovani, author of "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading," calls sticky notes and highlighters "tools for holding thinking." "Good readers" often use these tools automatically, marking places they feel are important or passages they had questions about. However, struggling readers will need instruction to figure out how these strategies can help them.

Why use it?
Sticky notes and highlighters are a great starting point for getting students thinking while they are reading. They are tactile and colorful, meaning that readers will automatically be interested in using them. These tools are also multi-functional, as they can be used to mark anything, from important sentences, to vocabulary words, to confusing paragraphs.

How do I use it?

Sticky Notes:
"When students can't write on the text, sticky notes make it possible to still mark thinking there. Sticky notes can flag a page and mark a line so readers can:
  • Find a part quickly
  • Mark a confusing part to get clarifications
  • Hold thinking to share later."
"Photocopy a short piece of text, a page from the textbook or novel, a graph or a word problem. Make a transparency, and model places in the text where you highlight. Give students an opportunity to do the same. Use highlighted students' sheets to drive the discussion.

Give students a yellow highlighter to mark places that are confusing, and a pink highlighter to mark places that they understand well enough to explain to someone else in the class.

Use any color highlighter to emphasize the reader's purpose in the text. For example:
  • a line that causes the reader to ask a question
  • a line that the reader can personally relate to
  • a line that strikes the reader
  • a word or term that is unknown
  • a section that is well-written"

  • Students are likely to misuse the materials at first (i.e. highlight everything, put sticky notes on each other). Be patient! 
  • Understand that students won't always use all of the tools you give them. If they walk away with a basic understanding of how to use these strategies, you've done well.
  • Have students write the page numbers on their sticky notes so they can put them on a piece of notebook paper for you to collect.

(Procedure and tips both from: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?)