Close Reading Using Annotation Tools


Collaborative annotation tools can engage a group of students in discussion around a common resource. Annotations and threaded conversations can shape class discussion agendas, or serve as discussions in their own right. By using browser-based tools, group annotation can engage students around a single resource or collection. Students can also produce public-facing critical editions of texts, visual sources, or other media.

Pedagogical Possibilities

  • Engaging group discussion around a common text through threaded conversations
  • Connecting a common text to other web-based resources via hypertext and linking
  • Annotating visual resources in synchronous or asynchronous settings
  • Incorporating other voices into classroom discussion (community partners, other scholars, remote students, students in other classes, etc.)

Tools is an excellent browser-based tool for group annotation. A Chrome browser extension makes annotating any web page quick and easy. You can also add a bookmarklet for any web browser. Students can annotate any web page, or any PDF or EPUB file that is available on the web. If you have a PDF scan of an article, you can share that via a Box or Google Drive link (or anywhere that the file can be viewed in a web browser) so your students can read and add annotations. is ideal for textual sources available on the web.

Google Jamboard

Jamboard is an app within Haverford’s institutional suite of Google applications (“G Suite”) that serves as a digital whiteboard. Because multiple participants can open and work in the same “Jam,” it is possible to load an image or group of images to the board and mark it up with a variety of colors and drawing tools, or even import other related images via Google Image search. It is possible to create a new Jam independent of the physical Jamboard, and thus can be used in both hybrid and online-only classroom formats. This is a particularly useful tool for marking up visual sources.


Omeka is a content management system primarily used for building digital collections and exhibits. Neatline, a plugin for Omeka that is primarily used for mapping, also creates opportunities for annotating images, since a static image can also be used as a map background. These annotated sources can be published to the web for a public audience. Within a Neatline exhibit, students can embed images and media within annotations, use hypertext to link annotations to each other or to other sources, and control the visibility of annotations based on user input. This tool is ideal for sharing individually and collaboratively-produced annotated images with the public.


The website has several illustrative examples of the tool being used in a classroom setting.

This Jam was produced during a text markup exercise to introduce text encoding in TEI.

This Neatline exhibit is a digital critical edition of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” collaboratively annotated by students in a writing seminar. This annotated version of a 1968 Ebony magazine article titled “What To Do If Arrested” is another excellent example of Neatline’s capabilities.

Potential Assignments/Classroom Activities

Some potential activities involving these tools are listed with recommended duration or lead time:

  • Weekly reading assignments with asynchronous annotations and comment threads can establish topic discussions for class meetings. Students can also link out to additional resources and embed external media in their annotations to create a digital critical edition of an existing text online. (daily or weekly, one library instruction session recommended)
  • Group annotation of a photograph or other visual media in the Jamboard app with live discussion during or after (daily or weekly, one library instruction session recommended)
  • Individually or collaboratively annotated images in Neatline published to the web for public view (at least 4 weeks with at least one library instruction session introducing the tool)