Why self-editing is hard for kids and how to make it easier

Why self-editing is hard for kids and how to make it easier • WriteShop

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 of self-editing!

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 for Homeschool Writing

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

1. Just Write

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. Make a Copy

Let children edit a photocopied version of their paper. This is especially effective with elementary-age kids who feel anxious about marking up the original.

3. Let It Rest

Have them wait a day or two rather than try to self-edit right away. Explain that it’s easier to proofread writing after it has had a chance to rest. Stepping back helps kids distance themselves emotionally from the words, characters, or story details they’ve chosen so carefully.

4. Read Out Loud

Have them read each word aloud slowly. Reading will slow them down, making it easier to catch her errors.

5. Read Backwards

Encourage them to read the paper backwards, from the end to the beginning. Reading one word at a time helps them proofread for repeated words and misspellings. Reading one sentence at a time encourages general editing.

6. One Thing at a Time

Explain that they’ll need to read their paper several times while looking for a certain kind of error (such as capitalization) each time. This is more effective than trying to find all the errors in a single reading because it gives them one small thing to focus on. One pass at a time, they can also look for things like overly repeated words, boring or vague words, sentence starters, or punctuation.

7. Rely on Resources

Teach kids to use resources like a dictionary, thesaurus, grammar reference, or word banks so they’re less likely to make guesses about how to fix mistakes.

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 Why SELF-EDITING is hard for kids & 7 ways to make it easier • WriteShop

13 Comments

  • 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

    Kim

    I couldn’t agree more, JoJo!

  • Posted October 5, 2010

    Jimmie

    (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

    Kim

    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

    Angie

    JoJo,
    What editor do you use?

  • Posted August 25, 2016

    Maria

    As a former middle school English teacher, you’ve really hit the points of self editing here. Students don’t often think their work needs it, when it really does, so things like letting it rest or even photocopying it is a great way for them to edit their work effectively. However, what I’ve found that works the best is reading their pieces out loud. My 7th graders had a great time doing this in pairs and even in triplets. It allows them to get that coveted “group work” they want, but also keeps them productive and busy at the same time. Thanks for your wonderful tools and for sharing them with us on #shinebloghop!

    • Posted August 25, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Thanks for weighing in, Maria. Reading aloud is such a great way to catch errors. Students are forced to read every word, so they pick up on things they might miss otherwise.

      Glad you stopped by!

  • Posted August 26, 2016

    Mother of 3

    Great tips! Pinned.

    • Posted August 27, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Glad to hear it!

  • Posted November 27, 2016

    Kristin

    This is a wonderful list for writers of all ages! Thank you for including it!

    • Posted November 30, 2016

      Kim Kautzer

      Thanks for the kudos, Kristin!

  • Posted 14 days ago

    Marla Fine

    Recently I’ve started to wonder whether our direction to just write is actually part of the problem too. While Donald Graves and the writing process brought about a welcome shift towards creativity and self-expression, I think we now have many students being encouraged to ‘run before they can walk’. It has been shown that habits form very quickly and are hard to break, so it may be that encouraging invented spelling and a lack of focus on conventions works against many students. Better to focus on and teach the sentence as a complete thought and provide word lists and encourage students to ask for correct spelling as they write so that they will have less basic editing to be done. If the basics are automatic, they will have more energy to devote to more creative kinds of revisions.

    • Posted 12 days ago

      Kim Kautzer

      Marla: There is wisdom in what you say, and I agree to a point. But in my opinion, the idea of editing as they go can—and will—stifle any remaining spark of joy that exists in the heart of a struggling or reluctant writer.

      Yes, children need to learn rules about sentence construction and have access to word banks. It’s just been my experience that it slows the creative process when a child has to stop to look up a word in order to spell it correctly or if he has to evaluate each sentence as he writes it to make sure it’s structurally sound. If he’s already resistant (or even hostile) toward writing, and he has to aim for (in his eyes) “perfection” the first time, he will hit a wall.

      Writing is a fluid process. There has to be room for mistakes—and time set aside to correct them. Rough drafts are meant to be, well, rough. The time for correcting comes during the editing sessions that follow. Allowing rough drafts to qualify as final drafts—mistakes and all—encourages the bad habits to which you refer. But requiring children to proofread and self-edit, and following up with teacher feedback, reminds them that those mistakes must be corrected in order to form better habits.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate the discussion.

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