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.

Too often, students click “spell check” and tell you that they are done. Editing entails much more.

Every lesson in an ELA class needs tweaking. Rarely do I teach any short story or grammar lesson exactly the same. Of all the particulars in an English class, writing – always writing – is what changes the most.

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.

I model editing too because the editing portion may be the most important. I’ve found it to be the biggest struggle for students.

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).

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.

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.

At first, be specific with student editing…

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

  • proper end punctuation
  • commas in a series and with coordinate adjectives
  • citing correctly (commas and periods with quotation marks and parentheses)
  • capital letters (proper adjectives, for example)
  • pronoun problems (agreement, antecedents)
  • subject and verb agreement
Show students what you expect. (I don’t stress if students overlap this a bit with ‘revising.’ I want them to take ownership of the process).
Then, I give students a specific, no-wiggle room checklist. 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.
After about ten weeks of writing, I start providing less guidance with student editing.
…students will eventually find 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.

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.

This of course spills over to revising – fixing word choice. 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. Hopefully, these tips gave you a starting point to improve student editing.

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