In the Classroom: Annotating Charlotte’s Web

I begin every school year with a study of E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. As I’ve written before here and elsewhere, it was not a book I gravitated to naturally. But during a 1990 seminar at Princeton with U. C. Knoepflmacher I discovered what a remarkable book it was and, more importantly, what an amazing writer White was.

The children read the book completely before we do anything with it. This is already a new experience for them. In earlier years they were more used to reading a class book chapter by chapter. But I ask them to read the whole thing first, at home and in school. I do invite them to comment to me privately and in their journals, but we have no major class discussion about the book until they are done. This year many of the children knew the book already, but still told me they liked reading it again. One or two had only seen the new movie and complained that the book was too much like it and, therefore, boring. But the overwhelming majority enjoyed it.

I then showed them how to do a close reading of Chapter I just as I did with Uli in 1990 and just as I’ve been doing with classes of 4th graders ever since. (Here’s my post about last year’s lesson.) This time I decided to try to document it for the kids and for you blog readers by recording the lesson, having a few photos taken, and so forth. And so here are the results for you to consider or ignore.

These are thumbnails (click them on for the larger versions) of the pages I annotated on the Smartboard. (Since it is difficult to write legibly on the Smartboard there are fewer comments on the annotations than in my book.)



Here I am annotating on the Smartboard with the kids doing the same in their own books.


The learning specialist who works with me, Julia Stokien, created a wonderful collection of slides to support the annotating of Chapter I. I was able to switch from the book pages themselves to her slides and back on the Smartboard. Cool! This slide provides definitions and images for Arable and Fern. (She also found an adorable white pig and even a little snort audio file to accompany it! As well as a wonderful series of slides supporting the “Madonna and Pig” illustration.)

I recorded the lesson too (and felt sort of like a one-man band doing all this documenting at once! ) and when my school server allows me to I will upload it and link it here.

The children have started presenting their chapters and are doing a fantastic job. I used to have us sit seminar style, but now I just have the presenter sit at a desk in the front and call him or her Professor as he or she does his presentation. It is as much fun for me as when I first did it so long ago because the children always uncover new things. And because of this I’m evermore impressed with E. B. White’s brilliance as a writer for children.



Filed under Charlotte's Web, Children's Literature

27 responses to “In the Classroom: Annotating Charlotte’s Web

  1. Pingback: In the Classroom: Annotating Charlotte’s Web

  2. thereadingzone

    What an inspirational post!! I am looking forward to seeing the video, as I would love to do something similar in my own class!


  3. KT Horning

    Have I mentioned that I want to be in your class? I see there’s a seat for me, there in the front row.


  4. I wanna be in my class! I teach the way I wish I’d been taught.



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  12. Cherie Saylor Garrett

    How do you afford enough books for every student or is there some way you can annote it without writing in the novel. We have sets of novels but my district is not going to let me write in Tuck Everlasting. How can I do it without multiple copies?


  13. Hi Cherie,

    I’m fortunate in having a budget that allows me to buy copies for all my students that they can mark-up and keep. It is the only book all year that we do this with. Is there no way you could convince your district to allow this? Part of the power of this is having the kids write in the books so that they become their own personal versions of the story. I believe the teacher at the reading zone is able to get copies for her students ( But if they won’t allow it I suggest using stickies. I’ve done that with other books and the kids like doing that too.


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  18. Nathalie A

    i just used your pic of marginalia and annotation for a marginalia class notes worksheet i’m making. let me know is you’ll like a copy. it’s for high school but it seems your kids may be mature for it. thanks so much!


  19. Do you know about the annotated edition of this novel? You could do lots of great things with this!


  20. Susan, yes I most certainly do. It came out a few years after I started doing this. I even knew the annotator, Peter Neumeyer, as we were both onthe same children’s lit discussion group. One year my students wrote to him about their annotations and he wrote lovely letters back.


  21. minnii

    that looks like a good teaching method…too bad everyone is poor in my my schools


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  23. Bridget Rieth

    LOVE this! Are you able/willing to post your SMART lesson (perhaps at SMART exchange) to share the supplementary slides? I would love to use this with my kids. I just cajoled a guest reader into sharing the first chapter of Charlotte’s Web and was distressed at how few of my students had read the book. I’d really like to try an annotation project with this book!


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