5 Tips to Help Students Edit Their Writing

Edit Writing: Feature Pic

Hi, I’m Jamie Sears of Not So Wimpy Teacher. I am so excited to share these tips with you today on teaching students how to edit their writing! Teaching writing is my passion and I love helping teachers become more confident writing teachers. 

Editing is a critical part of the writing process. It is what makes a piece of writing look good and make sense to readers. Chances are, you’ve been doing a lot of the editing of your students’ work. 

But it’s important for kids to learn how to master this skill on their own. When students edit their own work, they take ownership of their writing. And their finished pieces better reflect their current writing abilities. 

Editing is a challenging skill for students to learn. Imagine this . . . you tell your students to edit their writing. It’s quiet for about thirty seconds and then everyone rushes to your desk. “I’m finished!” “I’m done!” they say. But even with a quick glance at their papers, several errors jump off the page.

Has that ever happened to you? Don’t worry. You are not alone. It can be tough to get students to edit their own writing. These five simple tips will help.

Set expectations from the beginning.

Kids don’t like to admit they are wrong. And editing requires them to do that. When you ask students to edit, they have to look for their mistakes. This often makes them uncomfortable.

Students may also resist the effort of going back through a piece of writing they consider “finished.” They have short attention spans and want to move on to the next assignment.

Editing Writing: Pic 1

One way to make the editing process easier is to let them know up front that mistakes are to be expected. You can tell them that the first draft is just that, a “first draft.” The writing process isn’t finished until after they have revised and edited their work.

Teaching students how to set up their papers for drafting helps set this expectation. Leaving room for revisions and edits will help them understand that changes are part of the writing process.  This can make them more comfortable with the idea of making mistakes.

Editing Writing: Draft Set Up

I tell students to write on every other line, and we put an X on the lines we aren’t using. We also draw a vertical line about a third of the way across the page. Students don’t write past this line. Finally, we leave the back of the page blank. All this open space leaves plenty of room to make changes later.

Here’s a bonus tip: Acknowledge your own mistakes in front of your class to show mistakes are no big deal.

Don’t edit too soon!

Completed First Draft

“How do you spell blue?” “Where do you put the quotation marks again?” “Do I need a period or an exclamation point?”

These kinds of questions are common during writing workshop. Students often ask lots of questions about spelling and punctuation while they are drafting. They want to get it right from the beginning. 

Resist the urge to offer help during the drafting stage. The more you provide correct spellings, the more they will rely on you to do so. It will also imply that correct spelling is important to you even during the drafting stage. Encourage students to make their best guess and keep writing.

Self-editing as you write interrupts the flow of ideas and makes drafting more difficult. The first draft is for getting their ideas on paper. We want students to focus on the content. Kids who are preoccupied with spelling aren’t focusing on the content or developing writing skills.

Editing Writing: Kid Working

Also, providing assistance during the drafting phase provides a false sense of mastery. When you help kids with spelling and mechanics during this phase, neither you nor they will know how much they truly understand spelling and grammar rules.

It can help to have a standard response to these kinds of questions. “Write down the sounds you hear.” “Just do your best, we can go back and fix it later.” I found that reminding students there will be time to polish their pieces later on was very helpful.

Focus on one edit at a time.

When it is finally time to edit, take it slow. Editing can be scary and overwhelming for kids. You don’t have to edit a piece in one day.

Editing Pens

Rather than challenging students to find all the mistakes at once, work on one edit at a time. One day you might look for misspelled words. The next day you can focus on capital letters. The next day you can have them check for punctuation at the end of sentences. This helps them focus on and find more mistakes.

It’s also important to make sure the editing tasks correspond to skills your students already know. All the edits students are making should be developmentally appropriate. This makes student writing more authentic.

Third graders aren’t going to get it all right. That’s okay! Perfect papers are not the goal.

Provide editing resources.

Students find it helpful to have resources available when they are editing. Encourage students to use word walls or personal dictionaries to check on proper spelling. Anchor charts also make great references. You can have charts for specific rules like when to use different punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. You can also use anchor charts to remind students about the steps in the editing process.

Other helpful tools include dictionaries, interactive notebooks, student printables, spelling and grammar notebooks. All these tools provide reference points for students to use when they are editing their writing. 

Resources are also an easy way to differentiate writing instruction. Beginning writers or ESL students might require additional support during the editing process. Allow each child to use the tools appropriate for their level.

I have found that an editing checklist is another great tool for all students. It helps keep them on task and reminds them what kind of mistakes to be on the lookout for. The point of editing is to polish your writing and make it look good. Editing is not designed to show which student knows the most about grammar. Professional writers use resources all the time, students should too. 

Read writing out loud!

This is one of my favorite strategies for catching mistakes. After students have drafted and done one round of edits, allow them to read their writing out loud. They can read to themselves, to a partner, or to you. They can even record themselves reading.

Editing Writing: Kids Working Together

When you become too familiar with a piece you often “read” what you think should be there. Reading out loud forces you to slow down and actually read the words that are on the page. When students take the time to read their writing out loud, they often find tons of mistakes.

Don’t be surprised if you hear giggling or squeals of surprise when they realize what they actually wrote on the paper. Students love this activity.

You will be amazed by what a difference this small practice can make.

Do you have more questions about teaching students to edit their writing? I’ve got lots of great tips and resources on my blog notsowimpyteacher.com. You can also email me at jamie@notsowimpyteacher.com, or check out my store Not So Wimpy Teacher.

Jamie Sears is a fun-loving mom, wife, entrepreneur, and forever a teacher at heart. After several years in the classroom, her passion to make learning fun & effective for students and teachers alike inspired her to start the Not So Wimpy Teacher. Now she has the honor of serving hundreds of thousands of teachers around the world by providing easy-to-use, hands-on resources and engaging professional development that help students to love learning and teachers to love teaching.

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