Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

by Kathryn Nieves

Annotation tends to be an individual task. Unless students discuss their ideas and notes, students usually reserve this as a solo assignment. In order to pair educational technology with the idea of collaboration, teachers can use Prism Scholars Lab.

Prism Scholars Lab is an older website but still has a lot to offer for teachers and students today. Created as a small project, the website has expanded to include many more users, specifically students, who use it as a way to collaboratively analyze a text with their peers. Since it is a website, all devices with an internet browser, including mobile devices, can utilize the tool.

Both teachers and students need to have an account in order to use the website, though the site does allow for an automated Google sign-in in lieu of creating a username and password. On the website, there are three pages on the top: About, Browse, and MyPrisms. The About section offers information about the development of the website. Browse allows you to view public Prisms to collaborate with others or to get ideas for your own Prism. MyPrisms are the collaborative experiences that you have already built.

Prism Scholars Lab allows you to upload a text and provide opportunities for students to highlight and collaborate to analyze the text. For example, a user might post a poem and have students identify specific types of figurative language. Each Prism is equipped with three different color highlighters, each connected to a specific category of criteria of the user’s choice. The category of analysis depends on the individual class and the lessons being taught. Other examples could include identification of rhetorical devices or different schools of thought.

When you click on “MyPrisms,” you can create a new Prism, view your previously created ones, or view any public ones where you have made highlighted contributions. Selecting “New Prism” will allow you to create a brand new one for students. You will be brought to a new page where you must fill in the necessary information in order to create your collaborative Prism. You must fill in the content, such as the poem, song, article, or short text. Then you must fill in the requirements of each of the highlighter colors. A title must be given to the Prism, which should likely include some variation of the title of the original piece. The original author of the text must be provided, along with the date of publication.

The final requirements are selecting a language for the text, providing an optional description, such as giving directions for the participants in the Prism and indicating the license option for the text. The license relates to whether or not the text chosen is available for reuse. The website fully breaks down the levels of licenses for different types of use for easy identification.



One important feature of the creation of the Prism is the “Unlisted” button. By checking off that box, it signals that the Prism may only be accessed by people with the link. This indication means that outside members may not find it in the “Browse” section of the website. Choosing Unlisted will allow a teacher to just provide the link to the students so that collaborative annotation is just between peers.

Sharing the URL with your students will allow them access to contribute their highlighted annotations to the Prism. Students should select the highlighter color they want and then click on the words they would like to highlight. The eraser tool allows the student to get rid of any highlights that they want to revise.

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Students should hit “Save Highlights” once they are finished annotating the text.

Once they have highlighted their parts based on the directions provided, everyone will be able to visualize the selections of all of their classmates. Along the sidebar, there is an option that says “Font Size Visualizations.” When that is selected, students can see a change in the font size based on how many students selected the same answer they did. The larger the word, the more times it was selected. Students can choose the different highlighter colors to see each category.


The final product serves as a great point of discussion among a class. Students can discuss whether or not they agree with the final outcome of the Prism and it can serve as a jumping off point for larger class conversations about a particular text.

Tech Tuesdays: Collaborative Annotation with Prism Scholar Lab

Tech Tuesdays: Talk and Comment

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Coffee Klatch at Panera Bread, West Orange, NJ, on Thursday 9/20/2019, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., to launch the 2019 School Writing Contests. All are invited.

Illusion and Reality:   How have these shaped your life for good or for bad?   – This will be our theme.  The prompt based on this theme will be posted shortly.  Start thinking….


by Kathryn Nieves

The beginning of a new school year always brings the challenge of finding new tools to support the needs of each student. For me, that means there is always one or two students that have a need that my list of extensions, websites, and tools, do not support. This year, as I was planning to introduce text annotation to my sixth graders, I thought about my students who struggle to type their words or need speech-to-text tools. How could I get them to annotate on a webpage? Then I found Talk and Comment.

Talk and Comment is an extension for Chrome browsers that allows students to make voice comments on any webpage. Typically, my students use Diigo to highlight and make comments on their reading, but for my students who need the voice typing support, this provides another alternative.

Once added from the Web Store, Talk and Comment requires approval to use the device’s microphone. After approval, the tool is immediately ready to use.

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The logo on the toolbar at the top of the browser allows you to toggle the extension on and off based on usage and preferences. When the extension is activated, the logo will appear in a circle in the middle of the browser scrollbar. Clicking on it allows you to begin recording immediately.


Clicking the X will stop the recording from saving. Selecting the check mark will cause a popup window to appear with the URL to the recording that can be copied and then pasted to a variety of places.

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The notes can be copied and pasted onto social media websites, like Twitter or Facebook, and they will immediately turn into a recording file that can be played.

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In addition, the comments can be pasted into Google Docs, providing similar results. Students can keep all of their recordings in one Doc as notes and then share the notes with a teacher or peer for them to listen. Pressing the play button allows you to listen immediately within the Doc.


If the transition from URL to recording file does not occur right away, highlight the URL and press Ctrl + K to move the process along.

For students who do not have access to Chromebooks or laptops with a Chrome browser, this tool is also available on Android phone devices from the Google Play Store. It functions in a similar method as the extension but appears in the corner of your device’s screen as opposed to on the scrollbar, which allows for recordings across apps.

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Talk and Comment is an easy-to-use tool that doesn’t have a lot of overwhelming features, which makes it perfect for struggling students in an ELA classroom. Students can use it to record their ideas, comments, or even feedback in peer review, and then share it with others through the URL. The fact that the other user does not even need the app or extension to listen to the recordings makes it ideal for classroom use.

Don’t forget to register for the NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference: Approaches to Writing, K-12! Featuring keynote speaker NCTE President Jocelyn Chadwick, the conference will take place September 29 at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ. Register today!

Tech Tuesdays: Talk and Comment

Tech Tuesdays: Owl Eyes — Read, Annotate, and Collaborate

Making literature accessible to all students can be a difficult task. It’s hard to have enough time in class to fully read texts and dive into analysis, which results in a lot of the material being read at home. Owl Eyes can assist with that process for teachers by saving them time while still supporting students while they read outside of the classroom. Owl Eyes offers different annotated e-books that can be shared with students while still allowing teachers to track their progress.

Once you create an account, you will be brought to the main homepage, which allows you to select between browsing books or creating a class. You’re also able to see what books you are currently reading and a list of suggested books is offered. If you click “Browse Library” a drop-down menu appears with different options to choose based on your classroom needs.

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If you select “Annotated Books,” you are brought to a list of all of Owl Eye’s already annotated novels and texts.

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When you have found the text you want to view, you will select it and the main access page will appear. Initially, you will be met with a synopsis of the text. In a blue sidebar, the literary period, publication date, Flesch-Kincaid level, and average reading time will be provided. You will have several red button options, including the opportunity to begin reading, adding the text to “My Books” for later reading, or the chance to download the text as a PDF. A drop-down menu under “Table of Contents” will allow you to jump to a specific point in the text. Analysis resources are provided in that drop-down menu and there are even teaching resources, although some of them require a paid membership.

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If you select “Start Reading” you will be met with the first page of the text. The text appears like an e-reader with the different icons for navigation at the top of the screen.


Some of the text will be highlighted in yellow as you read, which is an indication of where Owl Eyes has made annotations to enhance comprehension and understanding. If you select the funnel on the navigation menu, you can filter through different types of annotations based on your interest while reading. The types of annotations vary based on the resource, ranging from persuasion devices, historical context, literary analysis, symbolism, and characterization, among others.

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Returning to your homepage, you can create a class for your student and assign them texts. Click on the “My Classes” tab on the homepage and then select the red “Add a Class” button. You will be prompted to name your class and provide information about it. To have students join, you can either send them an invitation through their email or use a class code provided by Owl Eyes to have them join themselves. There is even the option to send the invitation to students through Google Classroom.

When you assign a text to students, you can add your own annotations to help them. Go to the text you want and highlight the necessary words or phrases. Three icons will appear that allow you to highlight and write your own annotation for students to view. Highlight the text you want to stand out and then select the comment icon to add your own annotation. You can give it a tag so students can filter through your annotations easily. Then save your annotation. Students will be able to view the annotation when they are reading the text now.

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Students can reply with questions or comments to your annotations as they read, which can lead to in-class discussions and opportunities for teachers to help students at home or promote peer assistance.  


When students are enrolled in your class, you can also monitor their progress through the text and see which page they are currently reading. You can also view any annotations the students are making on the text themselves. This view is through the “My Classes” tab from the homepage. You can see the progress and annotations by selecting the student’s name. You can even reply to their annotations without leaving that page.

Owl Eyes is a collaborative tool that allows for student support as they read outside of class. Teachers can provide resources to help students as they read and can track the progress of their students, determining who may need extra assistance in class. This resource would allow teachers to also determine points of review for the class period based on the progress of the class in the reading assignment. Owl Eyes covers a wide range of literature used in English courses at both the middle and high school level. While some of the tools require a premium membership, the majority of tools are accessible through the free account.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Tech Tuesdays: Owl Eyes — Read, Annotate, and Collaborate