Coding Novels for Literature Discussions

For many years, my students in both elementary and college classes have asked me about what to put on their post-its, how many post-its are required for each book, and what are they expected to do with them when they are finished reading. These are all logical questions, but they also reveal that students were not using the post-its for their own purposes, but were simply following directions to complete an assignment.

As a reader, I don’t comment on texts or write in margins to complete an assignment. Rather, I highlight or code texts, write comments, and share these comments to help me make sense of and analyze the texts I read. Until our students understand the purposes behind these coding and commenting practices, they will simply complete the assignments we require of them and fill their books with useless post-its.

Coding texts is simply a form of highlighting and commenting. When I have asked students to code texts in preparation for their literature discussions, I suggested they place a post-it or margin note on sections of the text they wanted to feature and included a word or short phrase that indicated why the post-it was placed there.

Asking readers to add comments and codes to a book, whether print-based or digital, requires teachers to explain the purposes for this practice, and how these codes and comments will be used to enhance one’s discussions.

Possible Things to Code When Reading Fictional Texts

· Noticings – things readers notice as they are reading, including illustrations, language, book design elements, or genre characteristics.

· Connections – things readers connect to themselves from personal experiences or connections to other literary texts.

· Interpretations – potential meanings associated with what the reader notices, including character motives, inferences about themes, mood, symbols, or social issues.

· Strategies – strategies readers notice they are using to make sense of the text.

· Wonderings – questions readers have.

· Confusions – things readers find confusing.

· Narrative Elements – aspects of the plot, setting, or characters that seem relevant for understanding the story.

· Literary Devices – aspects of the writer’s style or craft, including figurative language, metaphors and others.


  1. As a teacher of 5-6 year olds, I also use this framework for doing 'think alouds' when reading picture books with children. As I'm reading the book - and even before I've started reading the text - I comment on things I'm noticing (e.g the front cover); I might comment on some connection I make with the picture, I might say something I know about the author -especially when I share my favourite authors - and what I know about them; I might question why the author chose to use a certain style of font or colour scheme; as we read through the book I might comment on some historical time the book was set in (e.g The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson set in times of racial segregation); I will share confusions about what is happening in the story e.g. 'I wonder why the pig said that...?' etc.
    We recently started dialogic story groups in our year level (Year One), where we split the children into 6 different groups (based on English language proficiency as it's an International school with about 32 different languages in our year level!) and we use this kind of model to talk with the children as we're reading. The goal is not to finish the book in a session -we often don't - but to get the children talking to each other about their thinking. We sit in a little circle and choose some books which promote this kind of teaching (Frank's lists are really helpful for book selection!)
    It's amazing how quickly the children adopt this way of working and by just modelling this kind of thinking a couple of times there gets a point where the teacher is just scaffolding some of the responses and the children manage their own lesson. We have a no hands up policy so the children have to learn the social conventions of when to talk and have to really look at their group members and listen to know when they can contribute. It really gets the children using some sophisticated language and we have had huge success with the rate of English language learning by having these open ended chance to talk groupings.
    I have seen some of the teachers and teaching assistants using post-it notes in the book as a way to prepare before the lesson, which is not a bad thing, but it can then become a teacher led monologic framework and you are less responsive to what's going on in the group.
    This 'structure' is not formulaic and it's not a tick list to achieve as you read every book but it certainly gets children thinking - and talking - critically about literature from an early age.

  2. Thanks for the note Rebecca - just another reason you are such an amazing teacher - the excerpt on coding is from my new book Reading Workshop 2.0 - what I was trying to do in this section was explain why we code texts before I shared new (online and digital) technologies for marking up texts. My hope is the intention will precede the technology :)

  3. online coding classes for kids I admire this article for the well-researched content and excellent wording. I got so involved in this material that I couldn’t stop reading. I am impressed with your work and skill. Thank you so much.


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