Make Student Editing Meaningful

Editing student with teenagers - some tricks and ideas to make editing papers meaningful.

Let’s tackle student editing!

Edit: to revise or correct, as a manuscript.

Student editing includes correcting and fixing grammar and usage errors. Before we begin editing student essays, I prep students a bit. I once thought the encouragement was not necessary, but once I created a pep talk as a bit of an anticipatory set, the editing process went better than previous times. 

Too often, students click “spell check” and tell you that they are done. They right-click on the underlined red marks. Editing entails much more. To get student buy-in with editing papers, I talk them through the reasoning. 

Every part of class (and most of life) requires tweaking, an editing. As adults, we rework presentations. We read over emails before we send them to our bosses. We practice discussions before important meetings. All of these are edits of sorts, and working on student essays is no different. 

I explain that I edit daily and not simply because I am an English teacher. When I communicate via writing and public speaking, I edit my message. If I have a point to get across or if I want something, my message should convey my ideas in the best possible manner. Editing student essays is simply practice for their future because we all have messages that we want others to positively receive. 

Getting students to invest in their writing is important for all stages of the writing process. I’m always searching for new ways to approach writing with students. Most often, I model writing. Then, I show students that I too make mistakes, and I edit in front of them. I verbalize my thought process and corrections. 

Finally, editing student essays beautifully connects grammar to writing. If you’ve followed my blog, you know I firmly believe in laying a strong foundation concerning grammar. When you edit papers with students, you hopefully share domain-specific language and can comfortably talk through grammar rules. Grammar is so much more than rules, and by working through student editing, you and your students can experience the power of understanding language.

Editing student essays is a great way to connect grammar and writing.

Editing: the goal

When I ask students to edit, they roll their eyes, ask if they can turn their papers in because they are done! As ELA teachers, we must teach students to edit (and flow into revising). I model my editing process for them and stress that I always find mistakes in my own writing. It’s important for students to understand that all writers make errors.

Students really should read their papers multiple times when they think they are done. This improves their papers’ flow. Use whatever metaphor you want: fine tuning an instrument, polishing a car, finishing a painting. As they read, they will improve small areas, but they should look for editing errors too.

They will find small areas (tiny phrases to switch, transitions to add) that will create the flow their papers need. Sure, they need to check spelling and punctuation. Editing is much more though.

When students get to that point, they will experience the wonder that is taking an idea, developing it, crafting it, and seeing a finished piece of art. I tell students they will experience a sense of accomplishment after properly editing their papers.

That is what student editing should be, but it does take work to get students to that point. At the start of the semester, I am specific with student editing and become less specific as we progress. Here is how I manage student editing.

Before you work on student revising and editing of student essays, engage students in the process.

Setting the stage

I begin with encouragement and understanding. I model editing to set the standard for students because the editing portion may be the most difficult in that writers already understand their messages. Objectively looking at a piece of your writing and determining if your writing best communicates your message by following standard conventions, rules, and expectations. . .

Whelp. That’s a ton of work.

I acknowledge with students that editing might be a big struggle. Looking through an editing list, I think we can acknowledge with students that this process is tough! 

Connecting grammar to writing might not come naturally for all students; therefore, be very intentional with your language and efforts. Grammar is so much more than what is wrong with student writing! However, standard grammatical rules exist so that we can communicate effectively. 

Use domain-specific vocabulary during student editing. Be positive that students can apply their knowledge to writing. Show students you are willing to help them.

As you edit student essays, provide students with a checklist of common grammar errors.

Making a list

Make lists with students. Commonly, my writing anchor chart for editing include:

  • proper end punctuation, semicolons, dashes, and other punctuation
  • commas
  • citing correctly (commas and periods with quotation marks and parentheses)
  • pronoun problems (agreement, antecedents)
  • subject and verb agreement
  • confusing words
  • parallelism
  • incomplete sentences
That list is adjustable, but those are common components of an editing list. I also have that list for you to download. If you’d like my editable revising and editing sheet, you can find information here:
Assess student essays with this free list.
Your talking points with students will naturally differ every class period. These are some common methods that I find helpful.

Punctuation

I’m classifying punctuation with a broad brush: end punctuation, commas, and semicolons. Citing sources correctly requires a knowing where to punctuate as well.

Typically, secondary students understand end punctuation. We might have work to do with other punctuation; however, I start the process with a positive. I use ten ways to teach commas. When I work through our editing checklist, we might have a separate section completely for commas. The most helpful tip I can provide for connecting grammar to writing during the editing process is to show students patterns. For instance, with commas, I might say:

I have highlighted in blue introductory phrases that need commas.

Look at your introductory dependent clauses in this paragraph. You should have a dependent clause, a comma, and then an independent clause.

You’ve added commas between adjectives that are not coordinate adjectives. Would you like to make them coordinate adjective or remove the comma?

Using domain-specific language and providing choice amongst students’ grammatical knowledge, continue finding patterns concerning punctuation. If students have a positive pattern, point that out as well. So often, teachers sandwich feedback with student essays, but they forget to praise the strong grammatical foundation students have. 

You might also need to chunk punctuation review as you work through the editing checklist. As you circulate amongst students or conference with individuals, gather data. 

For instance if students repeatedly use the wrong punctuation with compound sentences, you might need to chunk types of conjunctions. If students struggle with run on sentences, you might chunk subjects and verbs or independent clauses.

Finally, (even though I know you have covered the details!), you will probably need to review punctuation with citations. Together, ask students to locate their first citation. Walk through the parenthesis and period rules. If commas are needed for an introduction to a quote cover that. When all students are focused on one section concerning citations—one at a time—a collaborative spirit and helpful atmosphere develops.

Tricky Elements

Other editing concerns are tricky and quite nuanced. In this category, I place parallelism, overall usage, confusing words, subject and verb agreement, and pronoun problems. 

First, acknowledge that is a ton of material to address. Second, realize you can do it. If you are connecting grammar to other parts of class, if you are teaching grammar as more than something this is “wrong” with writing, your students will be ready to tackle tough editing components. 

Tackle tricky editing areas by working through each potential area. With student essays on desks or screens, highlighters or highlighting tools ready, ask students to find a paragraph to focus attention. Then ask:

  • Circle every pronoun in your paragraph. Draw an arrow back to its antecedent. Are they clear? Does every pronoun have an antecedent? Add a noun if a pronoun is unclear.
  • Write an “S” above each subject and a “V” above each verb. Do they agree? Be sure that phrases between subjects and verbs are not skewing agreement.
  • Highlight every conjunction in your paragraph. Look on both sides of the conjunction. Are the ideas parallel?

As students work, circulate. Help students match subjects and verbs, find pronouns, and highlight conjunctions. 

Show students what you expect. If your class shares common struggles, complete targeted practice over their trouble areas. (I don’t stress if students overlap this a bit with ‘revising.’ I want them to take ownership of the process.) I’ve found (luckily!) that my high school students can explain the difference between editing and revising, but I don’t draw a hard line with them. If they feel the desire to improve their papers, I let them.

The writing process for student essays should include collaborating with other writers.

Collaborating

With large editing tasks completed, I then ask students to collaborate with their writing.

I give students a specific, no-wiggle room checklist that requires specific actions. I use peer editing because editing in real life (an office, a meeting) will take place together. This form has specifics that students must look at before they move on. The wording requires students to look at certain parts of a paper and provide feedback. For instance, I model how to check for subject verb agreement. I look at each sentence and check that agreement is there. 

We continue to layer lessons. Modeling and talking through the checklist encourages collaboration. At first, these efforts might feel forced. I continue because I know that we are building a strong classroom community of writers. This part of the editing process is difficult for me as the teacher because I am continually on my feet, walking, talking, and modeling. I am sure to use domain-specific language. For instance, I will ask students to locate their “subjects and verbs” rather than simple telling them to add an “S” to a word. It is important that students contribute to the application of previous grammar lessons to the writing process.

After about ten weeks of student writing, I start providing less guidance with student editing.

Turn student editing over to students so they can take ownership of connecting grammar to writing.

Finding their editing groove

Eventually, you need to let your little birds fly. When students begin to edit alone, I model for them my editing with my writing. It won’t follow a certain pattern; it will be personalized.

When students personalize the process, you will know that your students have found what works for them.

If students struggle to edit alone, I bring them back to the specifics we used above. I ask students to go through the lists on our anchor charts. They either like the structure, or they catch on that they should develop their own editing style. I release students as they find their groove and circle back with students who are not editing or do not understand they should edit.

Sometimes I will ask my students to edit their writing, and they don't know what I mean. They think correctly spelled words equate editing. Here's how to get them to work on their papers. #HighSchoolELA #LanguageArts

This of course spills over to revising, fixing word choice, improving structure. I encourage that and do not draw a hard line about what is editing and what is revising.

Every year, editing with high school students proves the most difficult part of the writing process. Students might lack direction or investment in editing. Building a strong foundation with grammar, continually building and connecting grammar to writing, and experimenting with what works for classes will make student editing meaningful. Hopefully, these tips gave you a starting point to improve student editing. 

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