Every elementary school teacher knows that editing is a lot of work, both doing it and teaching it. You’ve heard all your students’ excuses: editing is hard; it takes too much time; everyone will know what they mean without edits, and of course, the classic “the first draft is already perfect!”
As much as your students might not want to admit it, even a “perfect” first draft can be revealed as a hapless victim to misplaced commas and errant apostrophes. Editing is the only way to reshape the energy of a first draft’s thoughts into a final written work that still resonates with that same energy but has more direction and purpose. It’s how you take a piece of writing from “oh yeah?” to “oh yeah!”
Teaching editing is a process, just like editing itself. Like any process, strategies for going about it come in many flavors, which is why we’ve gathered up all of our favorite and most effective editing strategies for elementary school students.
1. Treat Editing Like a Treasure Hunt
When your students are editing, make a game of it! Ask them to find one specific thing, such as a spelling, punctuation or capitalization mistake. Spend focused time “hunting” for “treasure,” and celebrate every time someone finds it!
To make it extra fun, you can make use of pirate-themed decorations, activities, crafts and treats. This is an entertaining way to introduce a new section on editing in a way that doesn’t feel like just another lesson but more like a fun game to play on Talk Like a Pirate Day (or any day, if you don’t want to wait for September 19th!).
2. Leave Editing to the C.O.P.S.
Begin your editing unit by explaining the actual mechanics of editing. There are lots of fun acronyms to help do this, so find one that matches your teaching style and classroom interests! We’ve chosen to feature a classic: C.O.P.S.
C is for capitalization. Are names capitalized? The first word of a new sentence? Are there words capitalized that shouldn’t be?
O is for organization. This refers to the structure of the piece and how the words look on the page. Is the handwriting neat? Is there enough space between words? Do words fit on the page, or do they get smooshed towards the end of the page?
P is for punctuation. Did you remember to use punctuation in your writing? Is there too much punctuation (we’re looking at you, repeated exclamation points and question marks)? Is punctuation used correctly?
S is for spelling. Is everything spelled correctly? Remember to double-check on tricky words like homonyms, homophones and synonyms. Make extra sure to check the spelling of big words and any spelling words that are used in the assignment.
3. Highlight the Issue
When it comes to editing tools, highlighters probably aren’t your first thought. We recommend you reconsider your opinion of the humble highlighter because it can be used for so much more than just taking notes!
Pass out highlighters and ask students to use them to identify words that are spelled wrong, punctuation that is in the wrong place or any other errors. As a bonus, kids love highlighting! Just make sure they remember to recap the highlighters with a “click,” or you might end up having to replace highlighters even faster than usual.
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4. Leave Room for Improvement
An editing strategy that is especially effective for elementary students is leaving blank spaces in between the lines of their writing (a double-spaced document essentially). Show them how to skip lines as they write so that they have enough room to make corrections when they go back to edit their writing.
This can be helpful for getting past editing blocks—yes, just like writing has writing blocks, editing has editing blocks. Many students resent having to edit their perfect piece of writing that they’ve spent so much time working on and making “perfect.” Cluttering it up with corrections can add to the frustration for these students, and one of the best ways to reduce that frustration is by leaving space for future edits.
5. Take a Break
One of the best editing strategies is to simply take a break once the actual writing is complete. This distance helps the mind catch errors that it has otherwise grown used to and will overlook when trying to edit too soon after finishing writing. When your students are writing, they should focus on the writing. After the writing is over, they can come back to it for editing the next day.
If you want to do an editing experiment, try having your students free-write on a topic and then spend time editing it immediately after. On another day, have your students free-write on a topic and then do the editing the next day. Once you’ve tried it both ways, lead a discussion with your class about the differences they noticed.
- Did they find more mistakes when editing sooner or later?
- How did they feel about what they wrote when editing sooner versus editing later?
- Which way do they prefer overall?
6. More Eyes Are Better
An important part of effective editing is developing an editor’s eye: focusing on each word one at a time in the hopes of catching any mistake that might be present. To help develop this way of looking at words, many young learners find a lot of success by using a “tracker” that keeps themselves focused—and on track!
A tracker can be as simple as a popsicle stick or the non-writing end of a pen or marker that they drag under the words as they edit, but we recommend something a little more creative.
Have your students draw a set of eyes about three inches across, then color and decorate the eyes however they wish. Cut out the finished drawings and laminate them, then glue each pair of eyes to a popsicle stick or pencil. Now each of your students will have their very own extra eyes for editing!
7. Even More Eyes
When you want an editing activity that’ll catch more errors than a picture of eyes glued to a popsicle stick, try this activity for partners or groups! The effectiveness of swapping papers and correcting each other’s work is so well-established that editing is a major part of some real, paying jobs. Have your students act as an editor for their peers, finding mistakes and improving their writing.
You could also have your students alternate reading each other’s work out loud to edit even more extensively—either the reader will find the mistakes or a listener will hear them.
8. Infinite Eyes
Many kids have a flair for the dramatic and love to be on camera. We’re willing to bet that you have more than one aspiring actor or performer in your classroom. Use that to your advantage!
Have your students record themselves while they read their writing out loud. They’ll probably find mistakes while reading, in which case they’ll want to revise, rewrite and re-record their video!
If you have students who aren’t comfortable being recorded, ask them if they would be more comfortable recording at home where their peers won’t be present.
Tips for Teaching Editing to Your Students
Model the Behavior You Want to See
Yes, this is a strategy that works for editing, too! One of the best ways to help young learners become familiar and engaged with the editing process is by showing them. Grab a marker and write on the whiteboard. Make some mistakes on purpose before going back to make your corrections.
We know you’ve got a student or three in your classroom who will jump out of their seats to point out your errors. This is the perfect opportunity to show your class how to edit in the wild. Turn it into a mini lesson and talk through your editing process out loud. This will help them better understand the editing mindset and start getting into it themselves.
Set Clear Expectations Early
As with any other expectations we have for young learners, they’ll be able to meet those expectations more effectively and with less frustration if you make those expectations clear from the beginning.
Students new to the editing process may resist any efforts to help them improve an assignment that they feel is done, which only makes sense. They did the assignment; the assignment is done, and now you’re asking them to do the assignment again. People—especially youngsters—don’t like to admit when they’re wrong, which can make the editing process tricky.
One way to lessen this resistance to your editing lesson is to explain the editing process and how it’s a valuable part of the writing process as a whole. It may be shocking to some students when they learn that all of their favorite books were probably filled with mistakes when they were only drafts. Those books had help from tons of people along the way, including editors! The first draft of any of those books was a starting point, not a finished story.
Knowing that their favorite stories once started out as sloppy first drafts can help students understand the importance of the editing process. This knowledge may help them become more comfortable making mistakes during writing—after all, even the best writers make them!
Support Their Efforts
A crucial part of writing and editing that your students will build upon as they progress through their academic career is the frequent and considered use of scaffolding tools. Rather than growing to rely on checklists and templates, scaffolding the learning process helps your students internalize the processes that the scaffolds are meant to support.
Think of it like training wheels for a bike: they help to guide the learning process, but they don’t take the place of doing the work or prevent any learning from happening. Bring on the cheat sheets, the worksheets, the flash cards and the reminder pages!
Most writing assignments in your students’ future—especially those that go on to college—will be evaluated based on a rubric, and especially savvy students will review the rubric well in advance of even choosing a topic!
While elementary school is a bit soon for all this, it’s both helpful to introduce the idea of rubrics early on, and you can also use them to help explain editing to your classroom. Discuss with your students what their writing should include and provide them with rubrics or checklists containing tips and reminders that they can refer back to as they write and edit.
Help Your Students Become Published Authors!
One of the best ways for your students to practice their new editing skills and implement some of the aforementioned strategies is to publish a classbook! You can use one of our FREE classbook publishing kits to turn your young learners into published authors. The prospect of being real, published authors themselves may be the exact motivation your students need to embrace the art of editing.
The process is easy. All you need to do is sign up online, and we’ll ship your publishing kit straight to you. A classbook anthology of your students’ writing and illustrations will be a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom, and parents can order copies, too! Read this blog post that explains the entire process in detail if you have any questions about how it works.
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. We hope that the strategies discussed in this post will help you guide your students on the path to becoming accomplished editors.