Writing in Books (or Marginalia!)

I recently read a blog post in which the writer was responding to a reading survey. The question was whether or not the blogger writes in books. The blogger wrote something along the lines of, “No.  I think it’s interesting but I don’t know what I would write“.

This statement has been haunting me ever since I read it. I’m baffled that someone wouldn’t know what to write in a book. As I sit, reading a professional book, marking up the margins with my thoughts and questions, I’m reflecting about marginalia.


As a teacher of middle school students, I began each school year explaining how marginalia is a record of our thinking. I taught my students to be metacognitive about their thoughts as readers and writers and to pull that thinking out of their heads and onto papers for their own learning and so that their peers and I could support them. My learning came from Stephanie Harvey’s Strategies That Work and Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Workshop. I was surrounded adults learning how to teach students to be metacognitive.

As a professional, I often mark up the margins of the books I read. My marginalia includes:

  • underling lines I find important or powerful
  • adding post it notes to pages I want to return to later
  • putting stars by phrases and ideas I find worth remembering
  • writing mini summaries
  • making connections to my own work or previous texts
  • questioning ideas that are new or challenging to me


I learn best by writing. While in my doctoral program, I found that if I wanted to remember something, I needed to write it down. I often wrote notes on texts themselves for my own learning. I then transferred my notes and synthesis to Evernote for future reference (i.e. quizzes, papers, my dissertation, blogging, or my work).


I don’t write as much in fiction novels that I read for fun. However, the more I read e-books, the more I find myself using the highlighting feature (available in both the Nook and Kindle app). If I have a real book in my hands, I find myself folding down the corner of certain pages. My highlighting, or page folding, happens when the writing has struck me- I love vivid figurative language,  singular lines that describe a character exceptionally well, or lines that I wish I could have written. My notes in fiction texts come from me reading like a writer– always wanting to improve my own craft by studying the work of many others.

When I used to borrow books from my mother, there were ALWAYS pages folded down. She and I would have games where I would have to guess what particular word, line, or event made her fold down a page.


I even notice interesting writing habits in nonfiction texts. The text included in this post had an entire chapter with an abundance of alliteration (the use of c-words distracted me!) I couldn’t help but notice.

I hope that everyone who reads this takes a moment to think about their own marginalia, and if necessary, get rid of the guilt and give yourself permission to write in your books!

All of my marginalia included today is from Uplifting Leadership by Andy Hargreaves, Alan Boyle, and Alma Harris.  What does your marginalia look like? 

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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3 Responses to Writing in Books (or Marginalia!)

  1. Pingback: My Favorite Posts of 2015 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  2. Pingback: The Reader in Me | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  3. Pingback: Even More Quotes That Resonate | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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