Fall in Love with This Teacher’s Text-Marking Activity

Kim O'Bray

Editor’s Note: Kim O’Bray’s colorful text marking activity is a key part of her close-reading process. Students engage deeply with the text by using colored pencils to mark everything from figurative language and unfamiliar vocabulary to central ideas and text structures.


I really like this text-marking approach because it gets everyone on the same page and encourages students to ask questions and make their own connections. It works wonderfully with any nonfiction text. At the beginning of the year, I model each step for my students, especially for my 6th graders who are new to text-marking. By the time my students are in 8th grade, the process has become second nature.


What you’ll need:

  • Any Scope nonfiction article. I used "Crisis at Chipotle" from the May 2016 issue.
  • List of vocabulary words and definitions, like this one
  • Red, yellow, green, and regular pencils
  • Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions, like these

Key skills:
finding text evidence, central ideas, text structure, figurative language, vocabulary, synthesizing, summarizing

Three, 45-minute class periods


Day 1: Preview and summarize

Preview the vocabulary that appears in the article by distributing the vocabulary words and definitions handout.


Set a purpose for reading. This can be anything from exploring author's craft to plot structure, or learning about a certain topic. For "Crisis at Chipotle," I wanted students to compare and contrast how different companies handle crises.


Have students read the text for the first time, either as a class or independently.


Have students summarize the text and share it with a partner verbally.


Day 2: Text mark and discuss

Set out red, yellow, green, and regular pencils for text-marking.


Distribute a handout with the text-marking rules for students to refer to. As students read the text for the second time, have them mark the text with their pencils in the following way:

  • Red pencil: Circle words or phrases you don't understand or don’t know how to pronounce.
  • Yellow pencil: Underline figurative language, such as similes, metaphors, and hyperbole; or underline examples of text structure such as cause and effect, compare and contrast, and problem and solution.
  • Green pencil: Underline the central ideas.
  • Regular pencil: Write questions and observations in the margins.


As the students mark up the text, walk around the class looking for trends in what students are noticing.


Divide students into groups of 4-6 to discuss what they marked and why. To get students started, you can bring up some of the patterns that you noticed as you observed students working.


Day 3: Summative assessment

Students demonstrate what they've learned by completing the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions activity. If there's time, students can then present their answers to the class or discuss them in small groups.


By the end of the activity, the article is almost completely covered in beautiful colors!


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Kim O’Bray teaches reading to 6th, 7th, and 8th-graders at Pittsburg Community Middle School in Pittsburg, Kansas.



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