The value of in-class editing

Here’s my favorite report card comment:  Devote more time to editing; learn to be a brutal editor!  

I’ve learned, though, that that comment is not enough; I must actively teach students how to edit.  For students “editing” can be an amorphous word (Am I proofreading? Am I checking my commas?) and they often don’t know what to do.

When students edit in class, I can both teach specific techniques and answer any questions that arise. Students often can hear the sentences that don’t work, but they don’t yet know how to fix them.  

I’ve had success with all of these strategies:

  • Always have students bring a hard copy and a lucky pen. In class, I insist on a hard copy edit, hoping to convince students of its benefits, despite its inconvenience.  
  • Don’t tell students about this editing day.  Collect their final drafts–and then pass them right back.  Oftentimes, students think they’ve finished a piece, but they haven’t been the brutal editors they need to be.
  • A variation:  Collect final drafts, and then pass them back, telling students to cut at least 50 words they don’t need.
  • Use a brief checklist, focusing on a specific area.  Here’s a great one I’ve used with structure.  Students then know specific areas to address.
  • Revision stations.  Divide the room into different stations and have students choose one page to edit.  They spend five minutes at each station and then rotate. Possible stations: concision; eliminating vague words like “this,” “it” and the phrase “there are”; using style techniques like the short poppy sentence and saving the best part of the sentence for the end of the sentence; using the colon and the dash for drama; using class resources to double check they’ve incorporated their textual evidence smoothly and correctly.  Make big signs so students know what to focus on at individual stations.
  • Teach specific strategies using samples–then give students time to implement.  For example, edit five wordy sentences as a class, then have students take five minutes to edit only for concision.  Next, tell them about the power of a well-placed interrupting phrase and provide examples.  Then, tell them to use this technique one place in their writing.

Let me know which editing strategies you’ve used successfully!

One Comment

  1. I think that handing the writing right back to students is an ingenious idea. I bet they don’t always have time to edit, so when given the opportunity (without missing the deadline), they should be able and willing to make their work better.

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    Reply

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