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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

How to Teach Editing in Your Writers’ Workshop
by Allison Demas

In another article I wrote that students should be afforded the opportunity to write poorly. This does not mean that they should continue to write poorly. You can begin introducing editing techniques early on in your school year without stifling creativity. It can be as simple as making sure there are spaces between words.

Editing lessons can include lessons on punctuation, using resources (i.e., word wall), re-reading your work and even simply noticing errors. You can teach students to edit alone or with a partner. An editing checklist, appropriate for your students’ grade level, can be created for the students to use as reference. This checklist can be updated throughout the year.

In my kindergarten classroom I have what I call the “Responsibility Factor”: Once you know it you are obligated to do it. This goes for everything. Once you know that you should cover your mouth when you cough, then you are obligated to do so. Once you know how to read a word, and know where to find it, then you are obligated to spell it correctly. Once the children know how to edit on a particular point, then they are required to do so.

To introduce editing, I conduct a mini-lesson using my own writing sample. I know teachers who believe that you should use a piece of student writing as an example since it is “authentic.” I respect their belief but I also cringe at the idea of someone, especially someone in a position of authority, holding up a sample of my work and asking for criticisms, even if they were constructive criticisms. I think I would stop producing samples. I want my students to continue writing and to continue loving to write. So I create a sample chockfull of errors for them to critique.

I make sure that the sample I am using has only one error repeated several times. For example, I will not put spaces between my words. I place my sample on the easel and begin to read it aloud. I deliberately falter and then stop. I explain to my students that I am having a difficult time. I ask if they can help me. I ask if they notice anything that I can change which will help me read my story. My kindergartners usually delight in telling me that I forgot to use my “spaceman.” We then go through the piece together with them telling me where I should indicate that I need a space. “Use your spaceman,” or “Leave a space between words,” can then be an item on the editing checklist.

Each time I introduce another aspect of editing I present it in the same fashion. I am not introducing a new topic when I introduce editing procedures. For example, if I want to prod them to use the word wall or a spelling pattern chart, I make sure I misspell a word they are familiar with and know where to look for it. The point of my lesson is not to teach something they don’t know, but to teach them to apply something they do know in a new way.

Questions or comments? E-mail Allison.

See also:

What to Teach in Your Writers' Workshop by Allison Demas


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