Every summer I make a professional goal for myself. As my school’s English department works to implement the Common Core, we made a departmental focus of teaching annotation to all our students. This summer I was determined to create a reading annotation strategy that could be used for any text. Fiction, non-fiction, informational texts, graphs, charts, videos, blogs, tweets, menus, fortune cookie fortunes – no matter which medium, it would be covered in this annotation strategy. I had other requirements as well. I wanted a catchy acronym that was easy for my students to remember, could be annotated both with pen and paper, and electronically, and could be completed in less than ten steps. If The Lord of the Rings’ archenemy Sauron was an English teacher he’d want what I want, one annotation strategy to rule them all.
In my AP classes, I taught four types of annotation strategies, each for a different purpose. The Rhetorical Triangle which covers the appeals speakers typically use to persuade an audience, the Liu Method, which analyzes the structure of a text, the Toulmin Model that deconstructs the logical fallacies embedded within a text, and SOAPSTone which allows the reader to see a 360 degree view of a text, considering the author’s background, why he wrote the text, and what his purpose was in creating it.
In my visions for a utilitarian reading strategy, I thought about how I could teach my students annotation, while also preparing them for college and career readiness. I would need a strategy that was easy to apply both for AP and Core English students. A strategy that is easy to comprehend, but that takes time to practice. After weeks of internal debate and field-testing with my co-workers, I developed SOAPTEA.
SOAPTEA stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Theme, Evidence, and Analysis. As one of my students astutely observed, “the SOAP helps me with reading, while the TEA helps me with my writing.”
I wanted to unveil SOAPTEA to my classes with the hype of Steve Jobs launching a new Apple product. I crafted a slick PowerPoint and developed a worksheet. I tried my best to differentiate between how to annotate fiction vs. non-fiction. Here is the cheat sheet:
• Speaker: The person communicating information to an audience.
Fiction: Who’s the main character? Does the Speaker have credibility (why or why not?)? What point-of-view is the story told from? (1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person)? Non-Fiction: Who’s the Speaker/author? Does the Speaker have credibility (why or why not?)?
• Occasion: The historical event that lead to the creation of the text.
Fiction: What’s the setting of the story? Non-Fiction: What historical event inspired the Speaker to create this text?
• Audience: Who is the author’s intended Audience?
• Purpose: What action does the author want the audience to take (use a verb statement)?
Fiction verbs: narrate, depict, instruct, exemplify Non-Fiction verbs: inform, persuade, argue, challenge, question
• Theme: What universal Theme is embedded in the text?
Fiction: sacrifice, bravery, hope, etc. Non-Fiction: community, freedom, security, etc.
• Evidence: What Evidence from the text supports the Theme?
• Analysis: How does the Evidence connect to the Theme?
I also created a chart that included each category. The idea being the students would complete the chart for their annotations as formative work, but if they completed their annotations correctly, they’d be allowed to use their notes on summative assessments.
I plan to phase in SOAPTEA into my classroom in three steps: first we will annotate together, then I will have the students work in annotations groups, finally they will be asked to annotate individually. My hope is the planets will align, there will be peace on Earth, and my students will automatically annotate while they read. Maybe I’m shooting for the moon like Sauron, envisioning his ring would rule all of Middle Earth forever. But, it’s worth a shot.
My megalomaniacal dream is that SOAPTEA will eventually create an army of annotation Gollums, frothing at the mouth, screaming, “Precious. My precious SOAPTEA. I must use you when I read.” What’s the worst that could happen? My students will learn how to effectively annotate? Worst yet, SOAPTEA may help them pass the HSPE, SBAC, and SAT, and they may find themselves enrolled in college.
Let me know what you think. Feel free to use/modify/tweak SOAPTEA as you see fit. Tell me how you teach your students annotation. I am always willing to learn how to be a better ring bearer.