Device Agnostic Annotation with Rap Genius

When you examine the instructional shifts outlined in the Common Core State Standards (though I prefer the term better practice rather than shifts)  you will find grounding  claims in evidence as central to many of the goals outlines in the CCSS anchor standards.

This often involves a series of practices labeled as analytical or close reading. I have explained that close reading is not a goal but rather it is the ends to the means. It is what good readers do to  utilize evidence from the text  during reading, writing, and speaking.

To engage your students in analytical reading I have explained that I often draw on the work of Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey (2011)  and suggest basing your reading on text based talk and text based analysis. I also believe that in order to fully make meaning with complex texts students need to transform the text by creating their own literary responses (Smagorinsky, 2007)


Using Digital Texts and Tools

New media allows us to combine these three elements: original response, text based talk, and text based analysis into our instructional routine. I have discussed using SubText or neuAnnotate on iOS devices and PDFZen on chrome devices. When I am keynoting a conference or doing workshops with a district I often hear, “We are a BYOD district. How can I do this and not be device specific?”

Rap Genius as the Device Agnostic Solution

Rap Genius, the largest database of annotated lyrics in the world has launched exciting new educator features. These include, poetry genius (for literature) and news genius (for current events and informational texts).

Rap Genius and the educational offshoots are web based. This means they are device agnostic. This will allow BYOD districts to have a collaborative place online to engage in the close reading of texts.

Using digital texts and tools for text annotation combines the three elements I believe are necessary for analytical reading. More importantly I believe tools, such as rap genius increase the efficacy and efficiency of teaching and assessing text annotation.

How Do I Get Started?

You can become a Genius by first signing up for an account. You can link to Facebook or Twitter. Then email Liz at and let her know that you want to be “educator-ized.”  This will allow you to create classroom pages.

Next you have to add a text and create a classroom page. Many of the texts you may want to use are already included so search first, but I added a chapter so you can see how easy teachers can use poetry and news genius:

Rap Genius began as a lyrics sight and then expanded into more traditional literary and nonfiction texts. This have left some UI features that may confuse some students. Poems and chapters are called songs. If students add original work or poetry they share “songs.” This is confusing at first but easy to overcome.

Text  segments can only be annotated once. This causes some students to race to be first. Then other students can offer “suggestions.” The “suggestions” feature is also used for general conversations about annotations and the text and may not refer to improving the original annotation. To address this issue teachers can take a few steps. First create multiple class sets of texts and have students annotate in groups.

My other idea is to create classroom annotations codes such as Q-for questions, C- for criticism, !!- favorite part, etc. Students can then use these labels within the suggestion box.

Like many digital texts and tools Rap Genius does not allow students under the age of 13 (thank you COPA) to use the website. That does not mean you are out of luck. To handle this issue educators should create a teacher account. Then place students in small groups. Have them annotate the poem using pencils. As a class you can then vote on or randomly select the annotations that you the teacher will enter on the text.


For BYOD districts clamoring for a device agnostic annotation tool Rap genius is your answer. For those districts wed to a specific OS you should still evaluate Rap Genius as a possible g solution to build in opportunities for close reading.

Close reading is not the goal. It is what good readers do to reach a goal of reading for and with evidence. Rap Genius will allow educators to model, teach, and assess students analytical reading while providing opportunities to use multimodal reading and writing environments.


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