Classrooms Annotating the State of the Union

By jeremydean | 11 January, 2016

We’re annotating tonight here:

State of the Union address

Or, for a direct link that includes the application, click here:

State of the Union address (with proxied)

One of the coolest experiences I’ve had with collaborative annotation is watching folks live-annotate a document just made public. This happens everyday on Rap Genius when new music is released. Here’s an animated GIF of the hours after the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” last year, including the transcription, verification, and complete annotation of the song’s lyrics–culminating in a note on the final couplet by Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon, apparently a hip hop fan.

Outside of new popular music releases, political speeches were one of the hot texts to annotate live, and none more so than the State of the Union. The text is released to the public in the hour before the speech and so someone always uploaded it to Genius, and for the past several years, I’ve observed as a handful of users  annotated while Obama delivered his annual address. The result of this work is a pretty great resource for those interested in learning about the speech after the fact–if you missed it live, what better way to get caught up then to play the video, read along, and click annotations on lines of particular interest?

Last year, reporters at Politifact used Genius to fact-check the SOTU and this year former speech writers have annotated previous SOTUs using the Genius “Web Annotator” tool at–they’ll also be annotating there live the night of the speech.

Politifact reporters annotated on Genius and embedded the annotated speech on their site

We hope to carry on this tradition of gathering for commentary and conversation on the SOTU at Hypothesis this year. Our focus, though, will be on bringing together students and teachers from around the country to annotate SOTU 2016 live on Tuesday evening and during the days that follow. This is the first in what we plan to be a series of classroom “Annotatathons” focused on political texts of various kinds during this election year. The effort is part of our partnership with the National Writing Project and KQED in the “Letters to the Next President” project. Sign up at the NWP launch page for the project if you want to learn more about about LTP2.0 and follow the hashtag #nextprez on Twitter for updates.

So this blog is really a call to action for high school teachers and students! We want you to annotate the SOTU starting tomorrow night at 9pm EST using If you don’t already have an account, go ahead and sign up for one here. Then, check back at this blog or follow on Twitter to get a link to the annotatable speech in the moments before the speech–it’s usually released within the hour before delivery.

We want this annotatathon to be as much like a live face-to-face conversation as possible. We encourage students and teachers to engage with the speech however they like: ask questions, make comments, explain what the author/speaker is doing (rhetorically, historically, etc.), describe your personal reactions to the language and the issues raised, and reply directly to the notes of others. Here are a couple of useful resources:

New York Times Learning Network blog on using annotation in the classroom

While we encourage classrooms to converse with each other on the public Hypothesis channel, teachers can create private groups for their students to annotate if they are uncomfortable with them annotating publicly.

Last week, I spoke about annotatathons generally, and this SOTU pilot project specifically, with a group of teachers on the Teachers Teaching Teachers show at EdTechTalk. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or ideas–email us at or just annotate this blog!

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