Teaching our kids how to use highlighters effectively is a learning strategy that will serve them well from elementary school into adulthood. Helping our students understand what to highlight and how highlighting specific text relates to important concepts is essential. Whether they are working on color coded highlighting, reading strategies, finding keywords within the textbook highlighting, or making notations, this skill will be a lifelong tool.
Any time we read directions or work on a math problem, there are essential pieces of evidence and inconsequential information. Being able to distinguish the two can be a bit daunting at times, and that is why knowing how to use highlighters effectively is so important.
Let’s look at an example.
If I am reading a math word problem for the first time, and I want to use my highlighters to help me focus on the most important numbers and words, I can highlight the entire problem word for word. However, by doing so, I am saying that ALL of the words and numbers have the same weight or importance.
On the other hand, if I highlight nothing, I am saying that NONE of the information has meaning and that all of the words and numbers are inconsequential. Neither of these scenarios is helpful to me because I have neither eliminated the unimportant nor pinpointed the essential.
Now, let’s say I highlight ONLY the numbers and words that give me a clue as to how I am going to go about solving the problem. I have discovered the value of the highlighter! I can ignore the words that are meaningless and focus all of my attention on the pertinent clues in the problem.
No matter the topic, highlighters are essential to focusing our attention on something that is important. In other words, highlighting something helps us remember that it is significant. And, that is why I am sharing 20 ways you can use highlighters effectively as tools to help your kids learn.
20 Ways to Use Highlighters Effectively
When you are first introducing the skill of counting tally marks, have your kids highlight the sets of five one color and the individual marks a different color. The color difference will be a quick indicator to look closely at each mark or set of marks.
Parts of Speech
Think about the old school style of diagramming sentences. This is basically the same idea, but it is providing your kids with an opportunity to pick out parts of speech with a quick glance. Consider creating a color coded highlighting “key” that everyone follows so there is no confusion.
Anytime your kids are reading a text, encourage them to highlight synonyms. This is an opportunity to really study the mood and tone of a piece of writing.
Whenever your kids begin studying different math operations, there is confusion. As they are reading word problems, they can’t remember whether to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Pointing out mathematical keywords such as “all together, have left, in all” and highlighting them in the text will help your kids determine which operation they should perform.
Beginning, Middle, End
In this highlighting activity, your kids are going to find the words and sentences that indicate the beginning, middle, and end of a text. This will help them when they go back to summarize the most important parts of a story or nonfiction text.
Letter sounds in words
As our students move from individual sounds to words, they can sometimes get confused on where to begin. Always highlighting the first letter sound pink, the second sound yellow, and the third sound green will help them consistently start in the right place. This is also a very valuable modification for children who have a dyslexia diagnosis or those you think might have some type of processing disorder.
As your kids become familiar with small words and you begin discussing word families, use highlighters to draw attention to the fact that all of the words within a word family have the same ending sound. This will help them realize that they are only have to figure out the beginning sound since they already know the ending blend.
Learning where different syllables begin and end can be tricky. We know that syllables relate to every voiced vowel sounds, but sometimes our eyes trick our ears. This is a great highlighting activity to help your learners connect the sound with the visual cue.
Order of Operations
While this may not seem like anything important in early elementary, being able to focus on one section of a multi-step order of operations problem will be immensely helpful when your kids get into algebra. Just ask my sons!
When we think of using highlighters, most of us think about text evidence. This is where kids highlight a specific piece of evidence from the text. Topics including theme and moral as well as main idea and supporting details are ideal for highlighting practice.
Another easy way for your kids to learn how to use highlighters effectively is identifying transition words. At the beginning, they would be looking for words like “first, second, third” or any other ordinal numbers in a body of text. Then they would focus on words like “next, then, finally.” Highlighting these words would show them the progression of the text from beginning to end.
Order of Events
The only difference between the order of events and transition words is that this is specific to dates and events in time. In other words, this would be a great highlighting activity for history texts because it would be an excellent way to visually represent events in time.
Close Reading passages
This is another perfect opportunity to look at relevant pieces of text. Whether finding supporting details for the main idea or specific evidence to answer a text dependent question, highlighting content will distinguish the important from the unimportant.
New vocabulary words and definitions
Any time a student sees a new vocabulary word or simply a word they don’t know, they should highlight it. This will help them find the word again, read it in context, and (hopefully) define it.
In stories and novels, characters showcase certain traits. It might be physical or simply manifested in how they behave. But, either way, helping your students find these traits or descriptions within a story gives them another opportunity to use highlighters effectively.
Keywords in directions
This was something I did when I was in geometry. I REALLY struggled with geometry and I had to figure out ways to overcome my confusion. So, I would highlight words in the directions that gave me an indication as to what I needed to do. Your kids can do the same thing in any subject. Simply have them focus on those important words by highlighting them!
True and False
Another fun way to interact with a text and see how much your students understand is by having them highlight target phrases in true and false questions. The easiest way to do this is by having your kids leave true statements alone, but highlight the words or phrases in a false statement that actually make it wrong. This is an immediate indication of those kids who have a true understanding of the subject matter and those who made lucky guesses.
Encourage your kids to practice capitalizing the beginning letter in a sentence as well as any proper nouns by having them highlight the capital letter. This will be a visual reminder of which letters should ALWAYS be capitalized.
When practicing punctuation, there are many rules to remember. As you are teaching these rules, create a punctuation color-coded highlighting “key” that designates specific colors for any of the punctuation marks you are teaching including ending punctuation, commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks.
This may be one of the most basic ways to use highlighters effectively, but it will save you A LOT of headaches. When I was in the classroom, I had a bucket of highlighters that sat right next to the tray where my students turned in homework. They were required to highlight their names BEFORE they turned in their work. If their names weren’t highlighted, it was an automatic 5 points off. (Of course, I only took off points after they learned the correct procedure and had time to practice their new skills.)
Having many opportunities for highlighting practice will serve your kids well throughout life. These 20 ways to use highlighters effectively are just the tip of the iceberg. Now that you have some ideas, I’m sure you will come up with tons more activities for your students.
Once your kids understand what they need to highlight and how the highlighted content keeps them focused on the most important things, they will be more attentive to what they read in all subjects.