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12 Strategies for Teaching Students to Edit

January 28, 2021 by Heather Wagoner

Let’s be real. Editing can be exhausting. So why do it? We do it to improve our writing craft in a way that takes our writing from “eh” to “oh, yeah”. I always think back to the example with missing commas. There is a huge difference between “Let’s eat kids!” and “Let’s eat, kids!” (Use this example if you are teaching commas. It always gets laughs from my students.)

When it comes to teaching students how to edit, it can become a challenging task filled with hesitation, irritation, and frustration. And I’m not just referring to your feelings as an educator. Keep reading for 12 strategies for teaching your students to edit! #6 is a favorite of mine. 😉

Oh, one more thing, can you find the 5 spelling errors in this blog post? Happy editing!

Strategy #1 — Walk the Runway and…MODEL

Obviously, I don’t mean a literal model, but one of the best ways to show students how to edit is to do it yourself. Grab an Expo marker and let them watch you write. Make mistakes on purpose and then go back and correct the mistakes. We all have those students who jump at the chance to tell you that you’ve made some mistakes. GOOD! Let them. Use that to show how to correct spelling or punctuation errors. Talk through your thoughts out loud, it helps them to get into that editing mindset.

#2 — Bust out the Highlighters

This may seem silly but trust me, kids love highlighting. Give them a highlighter and tell them to go to work highlighting their punctuation or have them highlight words they struggled to spell. Something as simple as changing the tool can make it exciting! Fair warning…this may lead to dried-out highlighters so make sure you teach them how to listen for the “click” when they’re finished. 😂

Strategy #3 — Use C.O.P.S. to Edit

Capitalization. Organization. Punctuation. Spelling. Whenever I began an editing unit, I would bring out my students’ recent writing pieces and tell them we were “using the cops”. You could hear a pin drop. I would choose a random sentence from one of the papers, copy it big on the whiteboard (not revealing whose it was), and write out C.O.P.S above it in big letters. Next, I would introduce the acronym and show them how to check for capitalization, organization, punctuation, and speling. They were relieved to find out Mrs. Wagoner wasn’t really calling the cops on their papers.

From then on, whenever we had a sentence example on the board, we called the C.O.P.S and edited the sentence as a group. Now the O in C.O.P.S can get a little confusing, but I described it like this: “Is your writing neat?” “Do you have spacing between words?” I was not blessed with beautiful teacher handwriting so my students LOVED correcting my organization. There are many cute anchor chart ideas on Pinterest too for this, it’s always great to add in a visual reminder.

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#4 — Leave Room

If you want your students to get in the habit of editing, instruct them to leave space in their writing. Show them how to skip lines as they write. This way, when they go back to correct spelling or correct capital letters, they have room to rewrite the word(s). Many of my students despised editing because they didn’t want to “mess up” what they considered to be a perfect writing piece. When you have them leave the space by skipping lines, it leaves a clean area for them to make corrections. 

#5 — Don’t Do It

…right away. Why do students feel the need to rush into editing? Are we rushing it for them? Even while writing this blog post, I’ve stepped away multiple times and come back to it with fresh eyes. A quick tip is to set a timer. If you’re having them write during whole group, tell them they have _____ minutes to write. (Make sure it’s an odd amount like 5 min and 42 seconds. Trust me. The majority will write the entire time and beg for more.) This puts the focus on the content first. When the time is up, colect the papers and come back to it the following day. You don’t have to rush the editing part. Let them write first and learn to enjoy telling the story.

Strategy #6 — Revise Eyes 

Another trick is to pull out the “revise eyes.” Print out some crazy googly eye images. Cut them out, laminate if you wish, and glue them to the top of a popsicle stick. If you don’t have popsicle sticks, use pencils. It’s that simple. Now, when you’re wanting students to read for edits, toss them a set of “revise eyes” to use as their tracker. I’ve seen third graders reread their writings twice just to use two different sets of eyes. If you don’t want to print anything out, try hot-gluing little erasers to the ends (you know those amazing $1 sets from Target you’re hoarding in your closet). Sometimes all it takes is something “new” to get students motivated.


#7 — Give ‘em Resources 

I am a huge believer in providing students with resources and other scafolding tools. If you’re worried they’ll get attached, it’s okay. They’ll move away when they are ready. There are MANY resources out there to help students with their editing. ETTC has a wonderful Grammar Interactive Notebook bundle FULL of support for students who are editing. Anchor charts are great tools students can use to help them with editing. Please don’t make an anchor chart and stick it on your wall without teaching the students how to use it. Better yet, when creating the anchor charts, have the students help you! This may require some of our Type A teachers out there to let go of the desire to have super neat/cute anchor charts all the time. (I was one of those teachers.😂)

#8 — Go on a Treasure Hunt

Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? When you’re having students edit, have them treat it like a treasure hunt. Give them ONE thing to look for, such as punctuation, capitalization, or spelling. Spend the time “hunting” for that one specific item. Celebrate every find like it is a “treasure.” If you’re feeling really spunky, add in some pirate themed items to make it a whole mood. Argh, we’re editing, mateys! 

Strategy #9 — Guided Practice

There is a time and place for guided practice. When first introducing the editing process, edit together! (This can tie into the first tip.) There are a lot of resources out there with sentences designed for the editing process, missing punctuation, misplaced capital letters, misspelled words, etc. ETTC has these 180 Daily Edit Mats, great for daily guided practise.  Put one on the board and have them talk you through it. Do this multiple times and then branch out into some independent work. This works well in small groups too. What if you’re virtual? Well, ETTC has DIGITAL Editing Mats with 180 digital paragraphs for editing.

#10 — Five Star Writing

When you’re evaluated, how do you know how well you’ve done? High five? (Or fist bump, hello social distancing.) Chances are, you’re probably given a rubric, a checklist with the criteria for success. Do the same for your students. Discuss with them what their writing should include and give them their own rubrics when they write. These don’t have to be extensive rubrics, just a few criteria are all they need. Search “Five Star Writing” on TpT and you’ll see plenty of examples/resources for kid-friendly rubrics. 

#11 — Alright Stop, it’s Partner Time        

I understand we are in uncharted territory as educators and partner work may not be posible, but hear me out. If you’re able to have students read with a partner, give it a try. Nothing helps someone edit more than having someone else read their writing OUT LOUD. While writing this blog post, I had my mother read it aloud, on the phone with me. Anyone else cringe when someone reads their work? Why is that? We’re afraid they’re going to find mistakes! Well, there you go. Let the partner find the mistakes, or the writer will hear the mistakes and beg for their paper. If partner work is not an option, try taking the editing outside where students can trade papers and sit at a safe distance from one another.  

Strategy #12 — Record and Watch

Who enjoys watching themselves on video? Not me. I don’t know what it is, but I get super uncomfortable watching myself on video. Ask a kid to video themselves, and they’re all for it! So, use it to your advantage. Use Seesaw, Flipgrid, or any other recording tool, to have them record themselves while they read their writing. Chances are, they’ll find errors while they’re recording and want to redo it to make it sound better. If you have a student who is hesitant to record, see if they’d feel more comfortable sitting somewhere else to do it. I had one little boy who LOVED hearing himself on video but didn’t like it when others could see him recording. We compromised, and he videoed while sitting in the hall. 

Editing can be challenging, but I hope you’ll find a strategy (or two) to take back to your classroom. Try one out, and let me know how it goes. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay! Not everyone wears the same shoes, so not everyone will like the same strategy. Find the one that “fits” and gets your students editing. Do you have any strategies for teaching students to edit that you use in your classroom? If so, please share in the comments below. 👇🏼

Written by: Heather Wagoner