News flash! Kids hate to self-edit

I hear it all the time.

We’re having self-editing issues. For some reason, my children believe they are perfect writers! They can never find any spelling or grammar mistakes.

Surprise, surprise! Most children simply don’t get the whole editing thing. They like what they wrote and can’t understand why you want them to—gasp!—look for ways to improve it.

Yet every seasoned writer will tell you that the editing stage is as important—if not more so—than the writing stage, for this is where the writing is refined and honed to become the best piece possible.

Oh, the pain!

During self-editing, a writer reads and re-reads his rough draft. As he does, he finds ways to improve structure, flow, and word choice. And of course, this is the time to get serious about conventions such as spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

Sounds easy enough, right? So why do kids have such a hard time identifying errors in their own writing?  

  • They really don’t see the mistakes. When we read, we think we see every word and punctuation mark, but in truth, most of us read in chunks. Our brains are funny that way.
  • They fail to see self-editing as an essential part of the writing task. At best, they consider it unnecessary. At worst, they view it as punishment.
  • They feel attached to their writing. To most kids, it really is personal. Looking for errors is no less painful than, say, plucking out an eye.
  • They attempt writing and self-editing in the same day. Writers—and not just kids—often don’t put enough space and distance between themselves and their writing piece before beginning the self-editing process.

Seven Self-Editing Strategies

Self-editing, like any other process, must be developed. Here are just a few tips and tricks you can try.

  1. Tell your child not to worry about self-editing during the first draft. The important thing is just to get the words down on paper.
  2. Let her edit a photocopied version of her paper. This is especially effective with elementary-age kids who feel anxious about marking up the original.
  3. Explain that it’s easier to proofread her writing after it has had a chance to rest, and recommend that she wait a day or two rather than try to self-edit right away. Stepping back helps her distance herself emotionally from the words, characters, or story details she’s chosen so carefully.
  4. Have her read each word aloud slowly. Reading will slow her down, making it easier to catch her errors.
  5. Have her read the paper backward, from the end to the beginning. Reading one word at a time helps her proofread for repeated words and misspellings. Reading one sentence at a time encourages general editing.
  6. Explain that she will need to read her paper several times while looking for a certain kind of error, such as capitalization. This is more effective than trying to find all her errors in a single reading because it gives her one small thing to focus on. One pass at a time, she can also look for things like overly repeated words, boring or vague words, sentence starters, or punctuation.
  7. Teach your child to use resources like a dictionary, thesaurus, grammar reference, or word banks so she’s less likely to make guesses about how to fix her mistakes.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

    JoJo Tabares

    It’s hard, even for adults, to edit their own work. That’s why I use an editor. I can read over my mistakes a hundred times and never see what I wrote because I am thinking of what I “meant” to write.

  • Posted October 4, 2010


    I couldn’t agree more, JoJo!

  • Posted October 5, 2010


    (This is a perfect post! Cute image, bulletted lists, headings, full of practical tips. Perfect.)

    I like the read it backwards tip. It really works to find fragments and run-ons especially. I’d never tried the photocopying technique. Great tip! My daughter is now 6th grade, so for her writing, I ask her to type it. She love that, of course because of the ease in editing.

    And another tip — we use proofreading/editing practice as our grammar/usage/mechanics studies. We’ve been doing this for about 2 years now (we use Evan Moor’s books). It’s a FANTASTIC way to hone the critical eye.

  • Posted October 5, 2010


    Jimmie: Love your tip to do regular editing practice using someone ELSE’s writing! Sure takes the emotion out of the process while honing those proofreading skills.

    And thanks for the kudos. I like this post too!

  • Posted November 30, 2010


    What editor do you use?

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