Writing in the Margins

Writing in the Margins is a cognitive reading strategy that makes transparent six ways competent readers process and react to ideas in texts. The work that readers do in the margins depends on what the text says and what the text does. Mostly used as a reading comprehension strategy, Writing in the Margins will teach students how to think about and clarify ideas in the texts they read.

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Writing in the Margins Teacher Guide

Teach the skill

Student Activity
Interactive Lesson

Assess and track growth

Performance Tracker

Plan your lesson

Planning Journal
Lesson Planner

Practice skills in all subjects

Guide in Spanish
Activity in Spanish
Rubric in Spanish

Student samples


Differentiate and support learning

Guide To Group Work

Writing in the Margins Lesson

Classroom ready student presentation.

Step 1: Check In and Review

Student Presentation

Writing in the Margins
Check In
Discuss the following questions and
record youranswers in your notes.

New to the Skill

  1. What do you know about this skill?
  2. Predict how you might use the skill?
  3. Where have you used it before?

Experience with the Skill

  1. What are the steps to this skill?
  2. Why is this strategy useful?
  3. How does it help you?
  4. How do you use this strategy in other classes?

What Teachers Do

Asks a few questions to assess what students know about the skill.

Teaching Tips

Questions can be answered individually or in pairs/small groups.
Have students use the skill with little to no guidance in order to assess what they know.
Have students explain each step either verbally or in writing.

Step 2: Instructions

Student Presentation

Writing in the Margins
  1. Use the Writing in the Margins Guide to help you think about the ideas in a text.
  2. As you read, record your thoughts in the margin, in your notes, or in LiteracyTA’s Writing in the Margins Table.
  3. Talk about your margin notes with someone in class.
Student Activity

Practice skills in all subjects

Guide in Spanish
Activity in Spanish
Rubric in Spanish

What Teachers Do

Go over the instructions and explain the activity.

Teaching Tips

Consider modeling how to complete the activity/steps before students do it on their own.
Consider having students complete the activity/steps in pairs or small groups.
Consider printing or projecting the Guide to review with students.
Consider using a timer to pace each activity/step.

Step 3: Set Expectations and Explain Grading Criteria

Student Presentation

Writing in the Margins
  • You should write in the margins multiple times on every page.
  • Write in complete sentences.
  • Write neatly.

Options for Formative Assessment

Call on random students to share their margin notes. This informal assessment takes only a few minutes but can give the teacher valuable information.

Walk around the room and assess what students are doing. This informal assessment takes only a few minutes but can give the teacher valuable information.

Have students read a text and talk in groups about which of the six cognitive strategies they would use to help them better understand the text.

Collect student work and use the rubric to assess how they are applying the strategy.

What Teachers Do

State the expectation for task completion and review how students will be assessed.

Teaching Tips

Consider printing or projecting the rubric and go over grading criteria with students.
Model expectations so that all students are clear on what is expected of them.
Consider having students demonstrate the expectations for their classmates.

Step 4: Model

Student Presentation

Writing in the Margins
Samples and Videos
This slide contains samples and
videos to help learn and master this skill.



What Teachers Do

Use the samples and videos to model the skill and support student learning.

Teaching Tips

Use pre-assessments from Step 1 to drive what is modeled and supported.
Modeling should meet students where they are in the learning process.
Consider asking students to model this work for their classmates.

Step 5: Students reflect on their learning

Student Presentation

Writing in the Margins
  1. What did we do today (or the past few days)?
  2. What was the purpose of this lesson?
  3. How did this skill (or lesson) help you meet the learning objectives?
  4. How did today’s learning build on what you already know and are able to do?
  5. How will this lesson help you in the future?

What Teachers Do

Close the lesson with a debrief. Give students time to think about and process their learning.

Teaching Tips

Select one or two questions from the menu and have your students discuss the questions in groups of two to four.
Have students write their reflection on a lined piece of paper or in a journal.
Ask students to chart their progress, assess growth, and set new goals for the next lesson.
Strategically select scaffolding techniques to maximize growth.
Rehearse skills as often as possible to ensure students move toward mastery.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards

Get moving with the Common Core Standards. The literacy resources on this page help educators implement the following College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; and cite specific evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

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