Including Editing Practice in the Writing Classroom

By Joyce Cain

As writing teachers of English language learners, we are often so focused on helping our students master the structure and content expectations of academic writing that the final editing stage of the writing process may get little attention. This is understandable as our students must learn the conventions of academic writing if they are to succeed in college and beyond. However, they must also be able to successfully edit their own written work if their instructors, peers, and eventual bosses and colleagues are to fully understand their writing. For many students to achieve this level of competency, class and homework time must be devoted to practicing this important skill.  In this article, I’d like to offer some ideas that take students’ editing skills to the next level and can easily be integrated into writing lessons with little additional time and few extra resources.

Students create their own exercises from authentic pieces of writing

When a teacher notices that students are struggling with a particular grammar structure in their writing, he/she might ask the class to create grammar editing exercises similar to those found in their grammar textbooks. By writing original editing exercises, students not only further their understanding of the problematic structure but also provide additional practice for their fellow students. An added benefit is the topic of the exercise can be directly related to the writing topic students are currently working on.

The first time this kind of assignment is used, the teacher should provide a relevant article with several examples of the grammar structure that students are struggling with. Students locate all of the uses of this structure in the article and together create “mistakes” that will later be used for editing practice. Once students are familiar with this process, they can locate articles that use the target structure in the magazines, newspapers, and books they are already reading for their writing class. From these, students develop editing exercises for further classroom practice or homework. The process of identifying a target structure in a piece of writing, creating “mistakes,” and later editing for those grammar errors develops a strong understanding of not only the grammar structure but also the topic that they are reading about in these articles.

Students create exercises from their own pieces of writing

A similar activity can be integrated into the writing classroom by using students’ own writing rather than published pieces. Again, the exercises will be based on a topic that students are currently writing about in their classes. The creation of these exercises will be most easy if the teacher has been using grammar correction symbols to mark student writing. Once a problematic grammar structure such as word forms, verb forms, or articles has been identified in student writing, students can create sentence or paragraph level grammar editing exercises from their own writing. The creation of exercises reinforces a student’s understanding of the particular structures and also helps the teacher by providing authentic classroom and homework practice on grammar structures that are being used in a particular writing assignment.

Students read aloud to identify areas of weakness

Another way that teachers can integrate editing practice into the writing classroom is to have students read their own writing aloud. This is most effective once students are quite familiar with English and are able to hear what sounds correct. Students should bring an extra copy or copies of a writing assignment that they are currently working on to class. With their partner(s), each student will read his or her paper as the other(s) follows along on the extra copy. As the writer and his or her classmates notice areas in the writing that they are uncertain about, the errors can be immediately corrected or noted for later discussion. As an alternative, students can read their partners’ piece of writing while the writer listens along and makes corrections as needed. This exercise might be most effective if students focus on only the grammar structure or writing point that is under discussion during that class period.

Students use an editing log to focus their editing

Students often lament the fact that editing takes a long time and they cannot locate their own errors. One way to focus their editing task is for the teacher to use correction symbols as he or she marks papers and later require students to complete an editing log where they record each of the grammar errors that the teacher has marked with a correction symbol. Only if used sparingly will editing logs be an effective way for students to become aware of the errors that they make the most frequently. It shouldn’t be until about half way through the semester or at a point where students have several completed writing assignments that they complete their first editing log. By reviewing all of the writing they have done to that point in the semester and recording the errors on an editing log, they may see a pattern of errors. This should provide them with enough information to focus their editing on their weakest areas for the remaining weeks or months of the semester. A second editing log can be assigned at the end of the semester for students to further focus their editing and hopefully see the editing improvements that they have made over the past months.

Students do the teaching

As all teachers know, the best way to learn something is to teach it. In this way, students might truly learn a grammar point if they have to teach that point to their classmates. In a writing class, this may be the only grammar instruction that an instructor has time for. At the beginning of the semester, teams of students can be given different grammar structures that they will be presenting on a particular date in the future. Just as instructors would do, each team should present a 15-20 minute lesson that includes practice, assessment, and homework. This might be an appropriate time for students to use the grammar exercises they have previously developed from their own writing or the writing they have located in magazines, newspapers, and books. This allows all students the opportunity to examine a grammar point in depth and to hone their presentation skills by teaching one lesson during the course.

While writing teachers may feel overwhelmed with the quantity of information that they have to teach during a semester, it’s important that they not leave out lessons and practice on the final stage of the writing process: editing. By using students as a resource and their writing assignments as teaching tools, the development of editing skills can be integrated into a writing course without much extra time and effort for the teacher.


Joyce Cain has taught English language learners at the community college and university levels for over 20 years. She started her career at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received her M.A. in TESL and also served as a teaching assistant. She is currently a professor of ESL at Fullerton College in southern California. She is the author of Grammar for Writing and Eye on Editing 1 and 2.

Literature in ELT: Integrating Literature into Language Learning

2014_Sybil_MarcusSybil Marcus

This content first appeared on the TESOL Blog. © TESOL International Association. Reprinted with permission.

We’re all wired to enjoy a good story with intriguing plot lines and an individual prose style. So, it’s a pity that many teachers either ignore or are unaware of the creative possibilities that literature offers for language learning.

In this post, I’ll talk about some of the ways I use stories to teach critical thinking; encourage animated discussion; and hone vocabulary, grammar, and writing practice. Continue reading

Teaching Consonant Blends, Digraphs, and Trigraphs

John_Caine
Professor John Caine
SUNY, Suffolk Community College

More than any other request, my students ask me to help them with pronunciation and vocabulary. After my first few semesters, I realized that a key factor in helping them was to start with consonant blends.

A consonant blend (also called a consonant cluster) is a group of two or three consonants in words that makes a distinct consonant sound, such as bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, qu, sc, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, sw, tr, and tw, We can group these into “l” and “r” blends, which are the most frequent and convenient to categorize.

A digraph is a single sound, or phoneme, that is represented by two letters. A trigraph is a phoneme that consists of three letters.

Consonant digraphs include ch, ck, gh, kn, mb, ng, ph, sh, th, wh, and wr. Some of these create a new sound, as in ch, sh, and th. Some, however, are just different spellings for already familiar sounds. Some consonants have “silent partners”: for example gh is a different spelling for “f” and mb is “m” while wr is still the “r” sound.

Sometimes reframing the concept in familiar terms lowers the affective filter encouraging self-scaffolding. Our goal is to encourage students to use the language they’re learning, and making the language fun to use is a great way to do that. Blends are fairly straightforward because they keep their phonemic structure. But sometimes helping students to vocalize these blends can be daunting. Teaching decoding helps them recognize and form new words.

But, there are so many blends and digraphs in English. Where to begin? Ah, the one reliable go-to connection for teaching—food. This is something familiar, something students can relate to, and something they can practice using since they come in contact with these items every day. Continue reading

Literature in ELT: Navigating a Sea of Choices

2014_Sybil_MarcusSybil Marcus

This content first appeared on the TESOL Blog. © TESOL International Association. Reprinted with permission.

When I first started using literature in my ESL/EFL classes, I thought all I had to do was teach the stories I enjoyed reading.   But I soon found that even my favorite stories wouldn’t always work in class.  Sometimes, they lacked sufficient depth for a 2-hour lesson, they failed to engage my students, or I couldn’t find a good way to organize the discussion.

So, how do you compile a successful syllabus for a literature-based course? If you focus on short stories (as I usually do), you can find thousands of them in anthologies, in textbooks, and online.  The sheer number of options can be a challenge, which I hope to help you with in this post.

1. Group stories into themes

Connecting stories thematically is an effective way to organize your course.  As an added benefit,  it allows for class discussions and writing assignments centered on comparison and contrast.  Some umbrella topics might be:

  • Relationships: Stories dealing with relationships between parents and children, spouses, siblings, and lovers hold universal appeal.
  • Social Issues: Some of the most animated discussions in my classes have been inspired by contemporary topics including war, discrimination, gender, euthanasia, and women’s rights.  Although many of these are hot-button issues, I encourage students and teachers not to shy away from them.  Because I particularly appreciate the role of social issues in increasing cultural awareness, I’ll be devoting an entire future blog to this.
  • Stages of Life: Shakespeare wrote about the Seven Ages of Man. I’ve found that students respond well when dealing with the various stages of life: childhood, the teenage years, young adulthood, maturity, and old age.  Your students will relate directly to some of these; others will require more imagination and empathy.

2. Look for layered stories.

While many stories are fun to read, they may not have sufficient texture for a complete lesson.  I always ask myself how much I can get out of a story.  You need complexity to go beyond a discussion of plot to an analysis of theme and style.  Too frequently we underestimate our students, who are generally hungry for sophisticated material. I like to challenge them with stories that engage them intellectually and emotionally, while stretching their language level. Continue reading

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