Using Social Annotation in World Language Classrooms

Cheryl Johnson, OFLA Immediate Past President
Instructional Technologist for the Dept of Modern Languages, Denison University

What is social annotation?

As defined by Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation, “social annotation is reading and thinking together. It brings the age-old process of marking up texts to the digital learning space while making it a collaborative exercise.” Therefore the private act of close reading by highlighting words or phrases and making notes in the margins of an article or book can be moved online and shared with others so that a text can produce a richer experience.

Why should you consider using social annotation?

Annotating on a digital text creates an anchored conversation. Everyone sees the text that an individual is commenting on or asking a question about. If a student is struggling with comprehending a word or phrase, s/he can ask about it and others in the class can help. Social annotation can help students to identify the main idea or ideas and find supporting details. Teachers can help students to make inferences or cultural comparisons by asking questions at key points in the digital text and also by responding to various students’ comments or questions. 

What tools exist for social annotation?

There are several available social annotation tools, but NowComment, Hypothesis and Perusall are quite popular. There are free versions for all of these tools. Plus all 3 sites offer easy-to-follow instructions for using their tool and creating private groups for your classes to comment on documents that you upload or link to.

To give you an idea of the possibilities that social annotation offers I am including below a screenshot that NowComment provides once you open a free account. This shows comments on an image of Le Radeau de la Méduse painting by Théodore Géricault.

You can also have students comment on other types of digital texts too as illustrated in this second screenshot.

Let your imagination run wild and give social annotation a try.

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