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3 proofreading habits that improve writing

If we don't make proofreading a ROUTINE part of written classroom activities, we might just be suggesting to our students that writing errors are okay!  Proofreading habits improve writing and students' attitudes about it no end.

Proofreading time EVERY time

Build proofreading time into your activities EVERY time.  Show students that accuracy is important.  Show students that looking over their work can be the difference between a good impression and a bad one, achieving or not achieving, getting the job or not.  Yes, proofreading is a life skill.


3 proofreading habits that improve writing

proofreading habits that improve writing

Actively teach students how to proofread at the beginning of the year, then remind them every so often.  Students must learn to:

  1. Read their work aloud

  2. Read it slowly

  3. Read with expression (aka prosody).

Only when students do all three (yes, simultaneously) do they truly hear how their writing sounds.  Often, when I remind a student to read aloud, they whip through so quickly they can't possibly hear when a sentence doesn't make sense.  Reading with expression means students have more chance of hearing what they're really saying (ie, writing). In addition, they also hear where commas and full stops should go.


The difference between a comma and a full stop

proofreading habits that improve writing

Which brings me to number 3.5:  remind students that a comma is like a give way sign. When you reach one you pause briefly but keep rolling.  You do not have time to take a breath!

A full stop (or question mark or exclamation mark obviously) is a stop sign.  We stop so completely that we take a breath.  When students begin driving, they learn that a 'legal' halt at a stop sign will force their head forward and back.  Tell them the equivalent of this when reading their writing aloud is taking a breath.


When we’re asking students to focus on how their work sounds, we want them to listen for:

  • Sense.  Don’t be afraid to ask a student to read just ONE sentence in isolation when you notice it’s incomplete either.  Ask them if that sentence could exist on a piece of paper all on its own and be understood. 

  • Syntax.  How often have your rearranged or completely edited a sentence once you’ve read it aloud?  Things can always sound ‘better’, right?!

  • Tone. Sometimes, it’s the vibe of the thing!  (Yes, I’m a fan of The Castle … and clearly easily distracted.)


Reading aloud, slowly and with expression v finger under the line

We often teach students to run their fingers under the line or to use a ruler to isolate that line.  Some teachers even give students a piece of cardboard with a viewing strip the length and width of a line of text cut out of it to force students to focus on that line only. 


I’m all for the finger under the line, but only after reading work aloud, slowly and with expression to see how it sounds. Running a finger under each word encourages students to check for spelling ... but only if you teach them to focus on every letter. This is a difficult skill to master, and I know this because I worked in publishing for two years! It's another aspect of proofreading that must be taught and practiced ... but not really what I want to focus on in this post!

So, to clarify, both are important, but I recommend you focus on building the habit and skills involved in reading aloud first.


A teaching routine

  • When you’re writing instructions on the board, or onto a worksheet add Proofread your work aloud, slowly and with expression as the last activity. 

  • When you give students a time limit for an activity, be sure to dedicate a relative portion of that time to proofreading.

  • Repeat the mantra "proofreading time, every time" to remind your students as well as yourself.

  • Follow up! Wander around the room as students work and ask them to read their work aloud to you. (Tip: this saves on marking time later!)

  • Mark their books/work.  Show your students the quality of their work matters ALL the time and that you care too.

Honestly, this is the best bang for your buck when it comes to improving students' writing skills. Get into it, then feed back to your colleagues about how it goes.

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