Comprehension: Interact and Annotate

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we can remember everything we read, not just the books we enjoy? It certainly would come in handy especially when you are faced with the daunting Comprehension section in Paper 2. That would certainly help you retain accurate details from the comprehension passage and answer the questions better!

Hello everyone! I am Ms Nuri, an English teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. I love reading, and I am sure many of you do, too.

How much do you remember of what you read? If it is your favourite book, I bet you can remember your favourite scenes. For instance, even though I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone many years back, I can still remember how Harry caught the Golden Snitch with his mouth!

Comprehension: Interact and Annotate

It is possible. However, like every skill, it takes practice, patience and consistency.

The key to remembering what you read, is… *drum roll*interaction!

Interaction is when you make notations on what you read. This is important because making small notes, even if it is just a simple question mark, makes the text a part of you. It is then more likely for you to remember it.

Picture it this way. If you want to learn how to play badminton, you can have some idea by watching other people play. However, you would learn and remember even more deeply, if you interact with the game, which in this case means to pick up the racket and play the game.

The same thing applies to reading! When you read, it is the same as watching something from afar. When start making notations or comments, you are interacting with it. In this case, you can’t make these comments verbally like when you are watching a movie. Hence, it is necessary to pick up a pen and jot these notations down!

Let’s start small by interacting using the following guide:

  1. Write a question mark (?), next to any word or phrases you read that you do not understand.

  2. Write an exclamation point (!), next to any part of the story that you think is interesting.

  3. Underline ONE sentence that summarises what the paragraph is about.

  4. Circle important words and short phrases.

  5. Draw small and simple pictures in relation to the text.

Look at the following example:

Comprehension: Interact and Annotate

Question Mark

Putting a question mark next to a word or phrase you do not know or understand helps you keep a mental note to look for clues later on in the passage. In the example above, I put a question mark next to ‘maize’ in Paragraph 1 because I do not know what it means.

In Paragraph 2, it is mentioned that maize was eaten by William’s family, which tells me that maize is a type of plant you can grow and eat!

Another example is ‘drought’ in Paragraph 2. I make a mental note to look out for clues and sure enough, in Paragraph 3, it is mentioned the ‘rains came’, which tells me that drought could mean a period of time without any rain or water!

Exclamation Point

Exclamation points are made next to points you find interesting. Most likely, points that you find interesting will turn out to be important ones! It also gives you a visual cue to signify when you have to look for important information.

One way this becomes useful is when you are answering a question that you cannot recall the answer to. In such a situation, you simply have to look out for the exclamation points you have thoughtfully mapped all over the text. For instance, if a question asks about why the maize had barely grown knee-high, you can refer to the exclamation mark at the end of Paragraph 1 where the reason for it is mentioned.


Do you notice how only ONE sentence in each paragraph is underlined? To me, the sentences that are underlined provide the most important information in the paragraph. Each sentence also summarises the events in each paragraph. For example, the underlined sentence in Paragraph 3 shows how William’s family surviving the famine is the most essential information you should obtain from reading this part of the passage.

Having a summary of each paragraph makes us understand the whole story deeper and as such makes it easier to remember details.


It is important to make your notations different from one another. If everything is underlined, then nothing stands out! Circling words or phrases (maximum three-word phrase), is a technique which further strengthens your understanding and memory. It can also make series of events clearer.

For example, in Paragraph 3, ‘begin again’, ‘new maize crop’, ‘rains came’, and ‘feasted’ are circled. Just reading the phrases, tells you the series of events that happened to William and his family in that paragraph!


Did you know images and colours help you remember things better? You don’t have to be an artist. Just drawing a simple smiley face or a stick man after each paragraph will further strengthen your memory on what each paragraph covers. Plus, it’s fun! At the end of Paragraph 2, I have drawn a picture of a sad face to remind myself of the desperate situation William and his family found themselves in when the drought continued.

The above techniques add only about two to three minutes of extra time compared to when you are just reading without interaction. However, taking that bit of extra time, deepens your understanding of a passage, so why not try it?

I am excited for you to try this with your comprehension text! In the comments section below, let me know of your experience, or share with me if you have a different way of interacting with a comprehension passage. 🙂

Ms. Nuri

As a teacher, Ms Nuri believes in nurturing self-directed learners who have the drive to be the best versions of themselves, and the curiosity to always seek knowledge without being prompted to. She believes that English language education is anchored by effective communication and active listening, thus, she makes sure that her lessons are always lively with interaction!

Have something to share? Drop us a comment below!

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