The key to teaching self-editing

by | Jul 26, 2017 | Editing & Revising, High school

The Key to Teaching Self-Editing | WriteShop

I’m sure it’s no secret that kids don’t like to edit their compositions.

Unfortunately, by not editing their own papers thoroughly, they place themselves in a “Catch-22” position; that is, though too lazy to edit their own work carefully, they fall apart when they see all the changes you suggest! Sound familiar?

What Students Think about Editing

I don’t like editing. It takes too much time. Besides, I like my paper just the way it is. It sounds good to me. Anyway, if I don’t proofread, Mom will find my mistakes. Why go to all that time and trouble to find mistakes and (perish the thought!) correct them when someone else will do it for me?

However, when their parent-edited composition comes back, they sing a different tune!

You’re always so critical! I can’t do anything right. My paper is too marked up. I thought my composition was fine. I didn’t see all that stuff when I read it!

Granted, not all students think this way. However, in our experience over our many years of teaching writing to nearly 200 students, we have learned that many, if not most, do become lazy as time goes on, self-editing less and relying on our comments and suggestions more.

What Parents Think During Editing

Wow. I see six “to be” verbs, but Janie only circled two. Yet she marked her checklist saying she counted correctly. 

So many weak words—very, really, had (twice), went (three times), and a lot. But Evan marked the box on his checklist saying he avoided weak words. He should have underlined them on his rough draft.

There’s no sentence beginning with a present participle, and I can’t find Charlotte’s simile. But she checked the box saying she used all required sentence variations.

Once upon a time, we used to find these errors for our students and suggest ways to fix them—and then we got smart! We began to realize that we were doing them no favor by spending an hour poring over each paragraph rather than requiring them to make greater editing efforts themselves.

The Key to Teaching Self-Editing

So what’s the key to teaching self-editing? Put the responsibility back on your students to do their part in this learning process! When they turn in their self-edited and revised draft to you, give it a cursory glance. If you find too many problems that show lack of self-editing efforts, return it for additional proofreading before editing it yourself.

Specifically, skim the paper for overused “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been), repeated words, use of required sentence variations, too many spelling errors, and failure to follow the assignment’s directions for content.

Diligent teens should be able to spot most of these errors, since they’re objective and easily measured. So if you find they’ve ignored or neglected any of these—especially if you suspect laziness rather than simple oversight—send the paper back so they can find the mistakes on their own.

Granted, there will always be aspects of writing that are subjective. Your son may truly believe his topic sentence is on target or his essay is organized—even if it’s not. That’s okay; you can address these when you edit his revised draft. But if laziness is preventing him from self-editing more thoroughly, or he’s missing too many errors that should have been obvious, put the ball back in his court.

By making students more responsible during the early stages of proofreading, you’ll not only teach them to improve their own editing abilities, you’ll save yourself a great deal of parent editing time as a bonus!

Don't let your teens depend on you to fix all their writing mistakes. The key to teaching self editing is to hold them responsible to do their part.


  1. Annette

    excellent advice as my lad grows closer to writing more often.

    • Kim Kautzer

      Glad you could glean a tidbit or two, Annette!

  2. Deb W

    This is an area in which we have both struggled. Our dd is the reluctant copy editor and I’m the reluctant senior editor. Now we can both experience improvement in our skills by taking baby steps and just stepping into it. Thanks for the suggestions.


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