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It’s a Highlighter Not a Paintbrush

by Janet Lee Stinson

Students love to use highlighers to paint lovely pictures. They paint daisies, colour in boxes, and draw decorative borders down the side of every handout. Of course this is not the way to use a highlighter. A highlighter is a tool for literacy and understanding. Students need to learn the technique for use of highlighters in your classroom. Use the next modeled lesson to introduce highlighters as a tool.

Think Aloud lesson: (10 Minutes)

 Tip from a mentor- Try to purchase different colours of highlighters. This will allow students the opportunity to switch colours. Different colours can indicate different parts of a document or feature of the text. Label all of your highlighters using masking tape and your initials. Assign one student to hand out the highlighters and collect the same number back into the container reserved for highlighters.

Pause, Demonstrate & Say

1.  Give students a handout containing directions, sentence prompts, and blank lines. Have the same handout ready to project. If you don’t have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom,  project the handout on the chalkboard and use coloured chalk as your highlighter. Works like a charm!

2. Open with a Joke-Tell students to join you as you draw a huge daisy in the margin. Take your time colouring in the petals. Next, turn to the group and say, that is the last painting you will be doing with these highlighters!! From now on, these are for spotlighting KEY information!! Smile…they will giggle…now move on to step 3.

3.  Read the directions aloud to students. Say, What are the key words in this sentence?

(e.g. Read and respond to the following prompts).

4.  Students should switch colours with a neighbour. Have students draw a bracket around each set of blank lines. Write-Always fill the lines.

5. Have students switch to the original colour. Read each prompt aloud to students asking, What are the key words? What is this prompt asking us to do? Have students highlight the key words without answering the prompt.

This modeled lesson will set the stage for a focus on following directions, answering prompts, and demonstrating understanding. The highlighter is a powerful tool for getting inside the heads of your students, and now can be a part of your success criteria.

How can highlighters help students to be successful on standardized test prompts?


Janet Lee has been an English teacher/Department Chair, Nipissing University Reading Part 3 Instructor, Student Success Literacy Consultant, and Nelson Literacy 7-10 instructional writer and media specialist. Janet Lee recently presented literacy resources at The Great Moon Gathering in Fort Albany, Ontario. She enjoys maintaining her blog This Side of the Mirror-A Journey Through Reflection to communicate with teachers and address current issues in education.

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