Ongoing Assignment: English

An annotation assignment could be a one-off exercise in close reading or it could be a daily practice for students throughout their course readings. The following unit plan imagines Hypothesis as a go-to reading and collaborating tool for an entire English course, beginning with one of Shakespeare’s plays.


We will be using Hypothesis to explore the primary texts and themes of the course by collaborartively annotating them online.

Annotating a text in detail, whether a poem or a primary source, is a step towards developing larger analyses, and can be thought of as part of the essay-writing process. You might end up using a brief close reading of a passage as an introduction to a traditional paper for the class.

Hypothesis’s intuitive and dynamic web annotation app enables users to create good-looking online content with relative ease. Developing digital literacy is also critical for students in terms of preparation for college and the evertday life beyond formal education.


We will begin working with Hypothesis by annotating some of the primary texts for the course, passages from William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The entire text of the play can be found at the Folger site here. Your first assignment is to add at least one original annotation and offer a reply to a classmate’s on each Act as we read them:

Note: that these links take you to annotatable pages of the text. All you need to do is login to your Hypothesis account in order to annotate.

Your annotation should be substantial and include a link and an image when appropriate. Linking to another text or annotation is extra credit.

How do I Annotate?

Using Hypothesis

Hypothesis enables users to select a piece of text from an online document and annotate in a sidebar.

Within the sidebar, there is a WYSIWYG toolbar that makes it easy to embed images and links simply by pasting in the URL. (Note: to get an image URL, you can navigate to the image page (www.blahblahblah.jpg) or, on a Mac, simply “control click” on the image and “Copy image URL.”)

The annotation window accepts “markdown,” a very basic computer language that converts to HTML–how text is generated on most websites. (Here’s an easy-to-follow  guide to markdown basics.)

Here are some basic tutorials on how to use Hypothesis. I recommend you use the Chrome extension whenever possible–this means downloading Chrome if you don’t have it, and then installing the Hypothesis extension.

Note: when you are working on a school computer (or any computer that is not your own/you don’t have admin privileges on), you will want to use the “via” proxy explained here.

Using my brain

Again, our goal here is to annotate texts, to provide analyses of textual meaning. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What literary and poetic devices like imagery, metaphor, and enjambment are at work in the song or poem?
  • How does the theme in the poem novel connect to the themes of other literary texts we’ve studied?
  • What relevant historical events are referenced in the text or could be helpful to understand its meaning?

While online writing is relatively informal, proper grammar is still expected.

Just as in more conventional paper-writing, titles should be appropriately formatted.

You cannot simply copy and paste from Wikipedia and other reference sites—that’s plagiarism anywhere you are writing.

As in conventional English essays, arguments need to be backed up with evidence. This is easier to do than using MLA format; simply link to a website that supports your point.

Digital writing requires a dynamism lacking in traditional paper writing. Be sure to include images, videos, or links in your posts to fully engage the online composition format.

Lastly, as with all digital writing, be sure to double-check, AKA proofread, your “published” explanations and suggestions to make sure links work and images and video are properly embedded.