Meet iAnnotate!

Your new best friend!


Welcome to this tutorial on how to use iAnnotate PDF!  If you are here, chances are you are a teacher who grades a lot of student writing.  I have figured out that, over my fifteen-year teaching career, I have graded approximately 6,000 student essays.  That’s a lot of grading. If, like me, you have struggled with how to manage that type of workload AND maintain the quality of your feedback, you are probably going to want to send me money when we are finished here.  Don’t.  Instead, use that money to buy yourself something nice because you deserve it!  Grading student writing is hard work.

iAnnotate is a PDF annotation app available for iPads and Android devices.  Be warned, Android users, some of the features shown in this tutorial are not yet available for you.  (I hope that Branchfire, the creator of this app, will remedy that soon.)  While annotation apps are nothing new, they are extremely useful for, well, annotating PDFs and images! This tutorial is going to guide you through the process of using iAnnotate to provide students with quality feedback on their writing; however, I am sure that you will imagine a dozen different uses, both professional and personal, just like these people did.

Because I like to be a fair critic, I do you want you to know that I tried at least six different annotation apps created for iPads.  iAnnotate was and is by far my favorite!  It is user-friendly, intuitive, and full of useful features.  The clincher, however, is that, to my knowledge, iAnnotate is the only PDF annotation app that allows users to easily embed audio comments as a way to provide feedback (more on this later).

iAnnotate boasts a hefty price tag of $9.99 in the App Store, but I promise you that it is worth it.  If you are intrigued, read on; watch the videos and then download the app for yourself.

iAnnotate Tutorial

Navigating inside of iAnnotate is pretty intuitive and user-friendly.  If you are like me, you learn best by jumping in and playing around; however, if you’d rather watch a video tour of the simple navigation, I’ve got you covered.

One of the first things you will want to do with iAnnotate is to customize your toolbar.  That way, the tools you use most often will be easily accessible.  This video will show you how to customize the toolbar; of course, you will want to play around with the various tools first so you know what is available to you.

At this point, you are ready to grade your students’ writing using iAnnotate.  The only thing missing?  The students’ writing!  There are several ways in which you can access your students’ assignments, and they all depend on how you have your students turn in their work.  Also, the way that you collect their work will dictate the method you use to return their marked assignments.  Here is a slideshow that covers three of the most common ways to access and return students’ work.

One of the best ways to effectively collect students’ digital work, in my opinion, is via a cloud-based storage service.  While I use Dropbox, you can use any service that iAnnotate supports.

This video will show you how to set up a connection between your cloud-based storage service and iAnnotate.

Now that you have collected your students’ writing, we can finally start giving them the feedback that they need.  At this point, I assume that you have played with the available tools and customized your toolbar to reflect those tools you feel you will use most often.

This video will show you the basic markup tools that I have found most useful.

And that’s it!  Now you are armed with enough knowledge to dive into iAnnotate and explore the possibilities.  Clearly, I have not explored every aspect of iAnnotate in this tutorial, and I am sure that you will find your own tricks and your own rhythm.  In the meantime, however, you can get started giving your students the type of feedback they deserve!

Odds & Ends

This final section houses all of the details that I forgot to mention at some point in the tutorial.  Many of these things are things that I learned the hard way, and I’d like to help you avoid the same frustration I found.

  • Teachers and students who use Mac laptops must download Adobe Reader in order to hear any audio feedback on returned assignments.  Preview, Apple’s default PDF reader, does not support this critical function.  For teachers and students using PC laptops, Adobe Reader is usually the default program, but if not, it can be downloaded here.
  • If your students are using iPads instead of laptops, I’m not quite sure how the returning of assignments will go.  My students have their own laptops, so I’ve never experienced this before.  Consider asking your school to install iAnnotate on student iPads.  Otherwise, there is an Adobe Reader app for the iPad.  If you do find yourself in this situation and you decide to investigate, let us know how it goes by leaving a comment below!
  • Carefully consider how you have your students name their files before “turning them in.”  Allowing them to choose their own file names just begs for a chaotic game of seek-and-find on your end.  I always have students begin their file name with their class period followed by their last name then first name.  Then, I will have them add the assignment name.  Using this naming convention, if you collect student assignments via, the files will be sorted by class period, alphabetically.
  • If you will be returning documents to students via email, do be mindful of the size of the file.  The more audio feedback you leave, the larger the PDF.  I know one teacher who occasionally leaves such detailed feedback that the files are larger than 10MB.  Fact: Your email program probably does not like files that are larger than 10MB.

Good Luck!

If you have any questions, comments, or if you find any problems or inconsistencies in the tutorial, please leave a comment below!


  1. sample student essay adapted from

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