The starting point as a parent or teacher is to accept that most children find editing their work pointless and boring. In addition, they often don’t have the skills to, or a structured process for, editing their writing.
Here are just a few ideas that will help:
1. Accept that editing takes time & is often boring
It is important that time is set aside for the editing process. Effective editing can take significantly longer than writing the initial draft. It is unrealistic to expect many children, especially those who dislike writing or find writing difficult, to write a draft version, edit the draft and create a final version all in one session. It is easier and more effective to edit your work if there is a time lapse between the initial writing and the editing process.
It is also important to acknowledge that editing is not the most exciting component of the writing process, so give children a reason to edit their work. This can most easily be achieved by having children write for an authentic reason (i.e., performance, publishing, sending the finished piece to a specific person, etc.).
For teachers, another way of providing a reason for editing is to have two marks: one for the initial writing and a second mark for the edited version. It is important that students resubmit the original piece so that you can determine if any effort has been made to make changes based on feedback provided on the draft version.
2. Divide the editing process into phases
There are a lot of different factors to be checked when editing. There are the basics of ensuring spelling, grammar and punctuation are all correct. At the next level, you need to check that each sentence makes sense and ideas are expressed coherently and in a logical order. At the highest level, you need to consider changes to the writing to make it more effective by using a range of literary techniques. Consequently, it is useful to read through the writing several times and each time have a different focus.
- The first time, edit for content and cohesion. Are there gaps in information? Do the ideas flow in a logical order? Are there any words that can be removed to make the writing more succinct?
- The second time, edit for effect. How can the writing be made more interesting by adding in adjectives, adverbs, similes, metaphors, sensory imagery and other literary devices. One strategy is to underline each part of speech in a different colour – nouns-blue, verbs-green, adjectives and adverbs-yellow, imagery-red, etc. This provides a visual image of the types of speech that are lacking. Each verb can be considered carefully to determine if it could be changed for a more ‘powerful verb’.
- The third time, edit for punctuation and grammar. Is every sentence actually a sentence? Are the paragraphs too large or too small? Do you need other punctuation marks such as question marks, quotation marks, apostrophes or commas? Have you written in the same tense and do the verbs match the subject?
- The fourth time, edit for spelling. Hopefully, by this stage some of the spelling errors would already have been remedied. Don’t rely on spellcheckers as they do not identify words that have been misused. Reading the writing from the last word to the first word is often an effective way of picking up spelling mistakes. When you read forward, there is a tendency to see what ‘should be written’, whereas when you read ‘backwards’ your focus changes and you are more likely to identify errors.
3. Print out a hard copy and read out loud
Most people find it easier to identify errors on a hard copy rather than on a digital version. However, conversely, it is easy to make corrections on a digital copy and to use tools such as the Thesaurus to find more effective vocabulary.
Reading slowly and out loud is also another effective strategy for finding errors. It is particularly useful for identifying if the writing is cohesive and progresses logically.
4. Focus on long-term improvement
Improving writing is not just a matter of making changes to the errors in the current piece of writing. Help your child develop strategies for avoiding the same mistake being repeated in future writing.
- Use an index book to write in commonly misspelled words. Spend time helping your child learn to spell these words quickly and correctly every time. Unless you have a high level of automaticity, in situations of cognitive overload (i.e., writing) the word will continue to be spelled incorrectly. Words that are commonly used could be written correctly on a sticky note and stuck on the edge of the child’s computer or desk.
- Make a list of interesting images (e.g., the raindrops chased each other down the window pane) and add to the list on a regular basis. The child can refer to the list to help make their writing more interesting.
- Teach your child about the different literary techniques and show how they can be incorporated into the child’s writing. You only know what you know!
5. Celebrate effort
Children’s writing is not going to be perfect because they are still learning. Don’t be tempted to change every single word or sentence because then it will be your writing and not your child’s.