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LANGUAGE ARTS :: SECONDARY RESOURCES :: WRITING HANDBOOK :: FOCUSING ON LANGUAGE CONVENTIONS

FOCUSING ON LANGUAGE CONVENTIONS

How Can I Help My Students Edit Their Writing Before They Turn It In?

For many students, editing consists of running spellcheck on their word processing program. However, teachers can help make editing more explicit for students by giving them a toolbox of editing strategies that will help them see how they can make editing choices that will improve the overall effect of their writing.

Students often feel overwhelmed by the thought of editing for every single grammatical, mechanical, or punctuation rule that exists in a grammar text. Teachers can help by engaging students in a "hunt" for patterns in errors they make in their writing. Once several patterns are identified, students can choose one or two to focus on at a time. Or, if the teacher notices a pattern that seems to be plaguing most of the students in the class, he or she can focus student attention on that particular convention.

Some students read so quickly that they literally read over editing errors that they would correct if they had noticed them. One way to help students avoid doing this is to have them read the writing aloud, preferably to another person, with a pen in hand. As they read, they will almost always find places where they unintentionally left out a word, misplaced a comma, or made a usage error (for example, "effect" instead of "affect"). Another way to slow down the writer is to have him or her begin at the end of the text and read it backwards word by word to look for typing or spelling errors.

For ESL students, editing can be particularly frustrating if they are unaware of why they are making particular errors. To help with this, teachers can engage students in problem-solving why they are making a particular error (for example, is it because there is no similar construction in the native language, they are making a guess about how English works, or they simply learned it incorrectly to begin with).

Teachers can also create a revision checklist for conventions. Noden (1999) cautions that teachers need to be careful not to overload the checklist with so many items that it becomes overwhelming. Teachers may find the list created by Connors and Lunsford (1988), which lists most common errors in order of frequency, to be helpful when deciding what to put on a checklist. The list includes the following:

1. No comma after introductory element

2. Vague pronoun reference

3. No comma in compound sentence

4. Wrong word

5. No comma in nonrestrictive element

6. Wrong/missing inflected endings

7. Wrong or missing prepositions

8. Comma splice

9. Possessive apostrophe error

10. Tense shift

11. Unnecessary shift in person

12. Sentence fragment

13. Wrong tense or verb form

14. Subject-verb agreement

15. Lack of comma in series

16. Pronoun agreement error

17. Unnecessary comma with restrictive element

18. Run-on or fused sentence

19. Dangling or misplaced modifier

20. Its versus It's error (58-59)

(Noden, 1999, pp. 186-187)

Example
In World History, students meet in pairs to read aloud a draft of an essay about the effects of modern day civil war on the quality of life in a country of their choice. While reading, the student is free to make changes as he or she notices editing or typing errors.

Example
In Business Law, students use a list of five common editing errors when they read a partner's draft of an essay about the procedures for borrowing money as an individual or as the owner of a small business. The editing error list includes sentence fragments, run-on sentences, comma splices, no comma in a compound sentence, and no comma after an introductory element.

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