How to Annotate a Poem: The 5 best tips to make annotating easier

When presented with a new poem, one of the things that most teachers encourage you to do before anything else is to annotate it. But, knowing how to annotate a poem is much easier said than done.

In the first of our Study Smart, Study Less series, we'll take a look through how you can learn to annotate quickly and effectively. We have five main tips to make annotating a poem easier for you, so let's get started and see what they are!

1. Symbols

When annotating a poem, you may feel as though every line requires a sentence or two worth of annotations. But this is not true!

One of the best things about annotations is that they help to reduce the amount that you have to write. You can use symbols to shorten down words and use different colour coded methods to help you visualise the techniques or themes being used throughout the poem.

Symbols are one of the best ways to reduce the amount of space and time you take up whilst writing annotations, as well as keeping your poem neat and easy to read! We recommend creating a key that explains what each of your colours/symbols mean, just in case you forget. Check out our infographic below which visualises what we mean.

2. Your Thoughts

One of the best ways to annotate is by adding your own thoughts to the text which may include some of the following:

Is there a line or a stanza that really stands out to you?

Was there a word or device you thought was impactful?

Were there any structural methods ued that emphasised a message?

Maybe you can comment and reflect on your emotions whilst you read the poem, and track how they change throughout the poem and each time you read it.

These techniques can help you to understand why the author of the poem has used specific methods which can lead to bonus marks in exams whilst also giving you a better understanding of the poem!

For example, in the GCSE poem 'Ozymandias', as displayed above, you may want to consider why the poet (Percy Bysshe Shelley) includes multiple images of isolation in the poem. Some questions to consider include:

Does this image reflect on something else that happens in the poem? If so, how? What words or techniques foreshadow these events?

Does it help you to understand the character of Ozymandias better? How does this character develop? What have we learned? What has changed?

What kind of language technique is being used in those lines to help you come to that judgement?

These are the sort of questions and comments you want to be asking during annotations.

3. Asking Questions

Have you ever read a poem and wondered, what on earth did any of that mean? Sometimes, poems can feel harder to access because poets can use imagery to convey the attitudes and themes within their texts.

However, what you may not know is that feeling confused and having questions about a poem is a key part of how to annotate a poem effectively!

The questions you have are often crucial in providing a greater understanding of the poem you are reading. Don't be afraid of the unanswered questions and the idea of not knowing. Answers may lay ahead or they may not but no matter what, asking questions is the perfect way to open up an exploration of the poem.

4. Peer Support

The best learning network around you for annotating and expanding on your ideas is your friends and teachers. During group study, you can bounce ideas off one another and swap annotations and notes to build off one another's ideas. Having people to challenge your opinions and notes is vital to learning how to annotate a poem.

Often, there is more than one right interpretation and sometimes there is no clear answer. By understanding different and potentially conflicting ideas, you will have a more detailed and sustained understanding of the poem and the author's intentions.

5. Have Fun & Be Realistic

Annotating doesn't always have to be a difficult task! The more creative you are with the ways that you annotate, the more confident you will become with the annotating process.

However, you also want to be realistic with annotations and know that you may not be able to get down every part of the poem in annotations. This is okay and selecting what information is useful when learning how to annotate a poem is normal.

In class, you may end up taking much shorter annotating notes and then after the lesson you might have more time to go more in depth with the annotations that you have made. Asking your teacher if you can spend more time on specific poems that you are struggling with can also help you with annotating skills as you can have guided support throughout a lesson.

Our Final Thoughts

Those were our five best tips for how to annotate a poem. We hope that you found them useful! At Tutors for Life, our main concern is ensuring that all students reach their educational goals and we do this by providing high-quality tutoring from some of the best tutors in the U.K.

If you are interested in trying our tutoring service, you can sign up here and receive your first lesson for free! Otherwise, please do give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where we look forward to hearing from you and how this blog helped you to annotate better!

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