Search form

Strategies for
Teaching Editing
By Cathy Puett Miller

What is editing? Ruth Culham of the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory separates revision (last month's column topic) from editing (spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation). Author Ralph Fletcher agrees. Others, like Lucy Calkins, make a distinction, but marry the two. They all agree that, when correctness and conventions are absent, no matter how powerful the message, it will never come through.

Move students away from finding what's wrong with their papers and acknowledge the intelligence behind an error. As a teacher, you can make editing meaningful by:

  • Searching for mini-lesson topics among the common errors students make. Show examples in actual published and unpublished text. Give them ways to remember and let them practice. Understand their logic for the editing decisions they make.
  • Never penalizing a student on a concept or rule you haven't taught. Phyllis Frus of the Sweetland Writing Center helps find a balance: "Marking all over a paper is likely to overwhelm . . . Limit your comments to three." Identify those and require students to become detectives, finding other errors alone.
  • Letting students practice on someone else's writing first. It is easier to see others' mistakes. Have fast-paced competitions to find the most errors in a practice piece. Then, set up peer-editing pairs. When students suggest corrections on another's paper, they must explain why.
  • Breaking editing into manageable chunks. If punctuation is a problem, isolate a student's first review to that. Encourage students to slow down or read their pieces aloud. Provide them with individualized checklists or "blooper logs" they help create to refer to as they write and edit.

Finally, remind students that they edit best when they lay their text aside for a bit and return with fresh eyes. Even those experienced writers who seamlessly flex between writing, revision and editing benefit from that approach. What we must keep in mind at all times is, as Arthur Plotnik, author and editor, reminds us: "We write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside. We edit to let the fire show through the smoke."

Read More

Print Resources:
* Calkins, L. (1994) The Art of Teaching Writing (specifically Section III, Editing: Learning the Conventions of Written Language")
* Frus, P., (2004), Commenting Effectively On Student Writing
* Peterson, S. (Ed.). (2003). Untangling some knots in K8 writing instruction. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Online Resources:
* Everyday Edits from (a whole year's worth of sample uncorrected writing along with corrected versions)
* Proofreading Strategies from Professor Pen

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.

Article by Cathy Puett Miller
Education World
Copyright 2008 Education World