Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Best Highlighting Tools for Students

Digital highlighting tools go beyond simply bringing attention to important text. With highlighting extensions students can use multiple colors, assign meaning to each color, and collect the highlighted content in a new document or web page.

With good highlighting tools, student can use different colors to identify:
  • Parts of speech - nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
  • Topic sentences and supporting details
  • Claims, evidence, and bias
  • Vocabulary words and definitions
  • Key ideas
Then they can pull all the highlighted content into a new Google Document or web page, and arrange the content by category (color) or by position in the text.

See below for information about what I consider to be the best highlighting tools for students. See the video where I demonstrate each one and read the rest of the blog post for descriptions and links for each one.

Demonstration Video

Highlight Tool

Google Document Add-on - Install from the Add-ons collection

Of course Google Docs already provides an option to highlight text (click the “Text color” button in the menu bar and then select “Highlight”) so why would you need an add-on for this? Well the add-on “Highlight Tool” adds two new features that the normal highlighting in Docs does not have.

First, it allows you to give names or labels to the different colors so you know what they stand for. Perhaps you want red to be verbs, and green to be nouns, and blue to be adjectives. When you create highlight colors you can click the “Edit” button to type in the name you want to assign to that color. You can even share your custom highlighters with others, and import theirs by clicking “Add-ons” then “Highlight Tool” and then “Share Highlighters” or “Import Highlighters”.

The second feature of this add-on is the ability to export all the text you have highlighted to a new Google Doc. You can choose to export “By sequence” (in the order the words show up in the Doc) or “By color” (to group all the same colored words together). This allows the student to create a Doc with all the noun, verb, and adjective examples nicely grouped.

Super Simple Highlighter

Chrome web extension - Install from the Chrome Web Store

If you want to highlight on web pages instead of Google Docs, then you can use an extension such as “Super Simple Highlighter”. With this extension installed you just need to select the text you want, then right click on the selected text. From the pop up context menu choose “Super Simple Highlighter” and the color you wish to use. Repeat this process as needed for all the text you wish to highlight.

If you leave the page and then re-open it later, all of your highlights will still be there, making this a great tool for long term student research. You can also click on the extension icon in the URL bar, then click the down arrow menu to choose “Open in new tab”. This will open a new tab with only the highlighted words along with their colors. This could be a quick way to select and compile a vocabulary list. The only drawback is there is no option to group the highlights by color, so the text is displayed by its normal order on the web page.

Read & Write for Google Chrome

Chrome web extension - Install from the Chrome Web Store

As an honorable mention, I am also including "Read & Write for Google Chrome". This is a fantastic extension with loads of tools for students including text to speech, speech to text, dictionary, picture dictionary, voice notes, and more. It also includes the ability to highlight in multiple colors and then collect those highlights into a new Google Document.

The great thing about Read & Write when it comes to highlighting is that it works on websites and in Google Docs. The only consideration is that those features are part of the premium version of the extension for students, so there is a cost.

Do you have other favorite highlighting tools, or great ideas for how students can use them? Feel free to share in the comment below.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Eric, This is EXACTLY what my teachers are looking for. Thanks for putting it together.

  2. The Read&Write for Google Chrome premium features available free to teachers if they sign up here:

  3. Sorry I have set up my highlighters using Add ons but I am not able to share with other teachers or to my other documents.

  4. Thank you Eric! It's amazing how a few simple changes in a tool can open so many learning opportunities.

  5. There is also Diigo, which will save your highlights/annotations

  6. Thank you for sharing this! I'm definitely going to use this with my reading intervention class

  7. i was using this tool at my school time