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        What Highlight Through Yonder Window Breaks

It wasn’t long ago that I was deeply in love…with highlighters.  The brighter the colors, the more I loved them. I collected big, chunky, fluorescent highlighters the way some people collect paperclips. What? Only Bert from Sesame Street collects paperclips?  Okay, but you know what I mean.


       I kept a big clear Lucite jar on my desk,and it was always filled with lime green, sunny yellow, hot pink, and my favorite tangerine highlighters. Ahhh. My lovely Lucite highlighter jar.
        My students knew how invaluable the highlighter can be, especially for visual learners. I taught lessons on how to highlight correctly. “Why do we highlight?” I would ask.
        “So information stands out,” they’d answer.
        “What happens if we highlight everything?”
        “Then nothing stands out,” they would respond.
        “Exactly,” I would say, “so highlighting everything is the same as highlighting nothing.” That was my mantra.

My epiphany came as epiphanies do, on an otherwise mundane day during a Socratic seminar. Students had read and highlighted the passage a day ahead of time, so I presented them with an interpretive question on a character’s motive. Now they had to find text evidence to support their ideas. I watched as they perused the text, looking for supporting details. I waited. And waited. It wasn’t long before I knew they were struggling. But since there were several possible answers with evidence to support each one, I couldn’t understand why they were having difficulties.

       We took a “brain break” to discuss the problem. The kids told me they could think of a possible “answer,” but the evidence eluded them even as they went back to look at the important details they had highlighted
      Eureka! (Great word: a big thank you goes out to my man Archimedes for that one.)
     They hadn’t highlighted everything, but the highlighted text limited their reference to just the highlighted text. They didn’t reread anything that wasn’t highlighted!
      My love affair with the beautiful, but shallow, highlighter was over.
      I did what I had to do. I went back to my old, forgotten love: the trusty #2 pencil.
      Now I teach students the tried and true method of annotating text (we used to call it “explication”). I start by modeling how to annotate text in a close read, and the students mark up the text like there’s no tomorrow. Although I encourage students to use what I like to call “text toolbox” symbols, I encourage them to use any symbols they are comfortable using.
      The page does not look as pretty…sigh..sometimes I do miss the lovely colors.
      But looks aren’t everything, gosh darn it! Annotating the text works.
      Here’s a free text toolbox bookmark download. Enjoy it!


              My name is Darlene, and I’ve been off highlighters for six months now. I’m trying to stay strong. How about you?