Review by Kirstin Sobotka, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2015


Collaborative tool lets kids annotate songs, literature, news

Subjects & skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: Educator's tools make this sprawling site more approachable; the wide range of offerings expose kids to an array of perspectives.

Cons: This self-moderated, mostly user-generated site is bound to have some iffy content outside the teacher-created sections.

Bottom Line: Students can collaboratively engage in the process of annotation and analysis with various texts.

View pre-created annotations of texts your class has read and discuss them in small groups. How do the annotations mesh with what you've already discussed? What's missing? Set up homework annotations on the site so students can practice annotation and analysis at home; kids can do this via the Web or via the iOS app created by the site's developers. For more advanced classes, let students take turns selecting assigning texts to the rest of the class, then allow for group analysis discussion days later. Teachers might also create weekly class contests using the site's point system. At the end of the week, students can share their best annotation with the class. Open the contest to texts already available, or create a class on the site to add topic-applicable selections.

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Genius is a tool for annotating text online. An outgrowth of Rap Genius (a longtime tool for collecting and annotating rap lyrics online), Genius lets users annotate and analyze texts from songs to literature to historical documents. Users can annotate any text with their own text commentary, images, and GIFs, and they can explore all other users' annotations by clicking highlighted text and viewing text and annotations side by side on screen. Members can earn points per annotation to build their ranking on the site; points can lead to becoming a site editor or moderator. Authors and verified annotators help validate content, but quality and appropriateness can vary widely.

Special tools for educators let teachers harness the site's features in a smaller, safer space. Educators can create classes for students to become members. Created classrooms provide a place for teachers to assign specific texts to classes, including pre-annotated texts from elsewhere on the site or un-annotated texts for students to explore for the first time. Only students with access can comment on class-specific annotations, making for a more private browsing and annotating experience. Extensive directions for teachers and students are available, as well. 

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Genius's features are powerful, and its potential is enormous: Users can gain insights from other users' annotations and analysis, and they can instantly, creatively contribute to a collaborative process of making sense of a text. It's also exciting to see this process applied to such a wide range of texts; some kids might be surprised -- and inspired -- to see Jay-Z's lyrics annotated with the same attention and detail as one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The range of nonfiction and fiction texts already available might be a boon to a teacher looking to make more texts available in the classroom. It's also fun to see all the ways students can collaborate: They can make their annotations by writing or posting images, and they can share what they've learned instantly via social media.

In many ways, the site shares Wikipedia's promise and its limitations. This is user-generated content, and some of it is inappropriate for students. It's best to use the site with the educator's tools -- this way, teachers can curate the content their students see and better monitor their students' annotations and give speedy feedback.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Students can post text and images to interact with text ranging from lyrics and literature to historical documents and class-assigned texts. Earning points and leveling up motivates students to read and annotate widely.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids will make meaning through reading texts, reading others' annotations, and adding their own. Flexible annotation features let kids play to their strengths and contribute meaningfully.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Students will rely on teachers to set up accounts and navigate the site initially, but great guide documents for teachers and students can show the way from there. Some texts (especially songs) come with audio.

Common Sense Reviewer
Kirstin Sobotka Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Leah K. , Other
Cobb County School District
Marietta, GA
Annotation Made Exciting... Beware Using in Classroom!

While I love the concept of Genius and enjoyed playing on the site myself, I would not recommend using this site in a classroom with students under the age of 18. This definitely has some applications for college level students given that there are no issues with requiring an email address or need to protect as heavily from explicit content for that age group. As a supplementary assignment for my own children, I could more carefully regulate what they are annotating. Beware using this on a projector even for a group activity as some great annotators have very explicit commentators.

Final verdict - do NOT recommend for under 18.

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