Close Reading with Microsoft OneNote

Close readingTeaching close reading skills in a digital environment is no easy task. These are important skills that are not often associated with a digital classroom environment. But with the help of Microsoft OneNote and Class Dashboard, it may have just become a little easier.

In my suburban Detroit classroom, I teach global history in a co-taught classroom with a special education teacher. I also teach regular Global History. The curriculum is the same, but the students have different needs. It is my goal to improve reading skills for all of my students, but also to prepare them with digital skills to be successful in college and in the workplace. I started taking my paper-and-pencil close reading activities and adding them to my OneNote Class Notebooks. Students have been learning how to navigate OneNote, learning how to read critically on a digital device, and learning close reading strategies they can use to improve reading comprehension.

To get a deeper understanding of text, students use close reading strategies to interact with the text using multiple methods. In an analog format, students use highlighters, sticky notes, columns, and writing to question and emphasize important points and questions. In a digital format, OneNote can be an easy digital alternative for teachers to use with their close reading activities. Students copy the assignment from the Content Area of the OneNote Class Notebook into their own notebook, and then they can annotate that document using textboxes, symbols, and highlighting.

Tips and Tricks

Try Analog Format First
If your students are new to OneNote, it may be easier to try the “paper-and-pencil” method first. Once they are comfortable with the close reading methods you plan to use, it will make the transition to the digital environment easier. That way they won’t be learning the skills of annotation, along with the digital skills in OneNote.

Use a mouse
Students have a hard time highlighting with a touchpad. Try using an attached mouse to make the job easier. A touch-enabled device would work well too.

Find High Interest Readings
Close reading strategies work best when students are interested in the topic. I use articles on current events that students ask about or talk about in class. Use websites such as NEWSELA, TweenTribune, Wonderopolis, and DogoNews.

Give Students a Choice
You can offer several different articles for students to choose from, and they can copy the article of their choice into their notebook from the options you make available in the content library.

Find Leveled Texts
For readers of different abilities, find texts of differing Lexile levels. Use NEWSELA to find articles with different Lexile choices.

Model for Your Students
The best way to show students the process is to model for them what you expect. Make a screencast of the process of copying the article from the content library into their own notebook, and then the process for close reading in OneNote. Use Screencast-o-matic or another tool to capture the video and then share a link to the video in your Class Notebook.

Close reading skills are not just for the paper and pencil. Try converting your class to digital close reading techniques using Microsoft OneNote.


Sheila Majask is a high school history teacher in Macomb, Michigan. She teaches 9th grade Global history, and is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.