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Improve proofreading by helping students HEAR their writing - here's a fun game to help!

Your students struggle to proofread their writing because they can’t read aloud. Confronting news, but true. And yes, I’m talking about high school students!

I’ve mentioned before the importance of allowing proofreading time every time, and teaching students to do this by reading their work aloud. Listen in and you’ll notice they struggle with the breathing part. They:

  • Stop and take a breath wherever they like, regardless of the presence of full stops (or exclamation or question marks).

  • Are often adamant they’re ‘allowed’ to take a breath for commas.

Ironically, it was hearing my Year 13 struggling to read their work aloud to me that got me thinking about all of this. So many of them insisted they’d proofread, some even missing the fact that an entire paragraph was missing full stops. I’d get them to read it to me then, along the way taking guilty pleasure in asking, “Why did you take a breath there?” (Then I’d cry a little on the inside.)

To help students HEAR writing as they proofread get them to think of punctuation as reader road signs.
To help students HEAR writing as they proofread get them to think of punctuation as reader road signs.

Punctuation marks = traffic signs

Happily, with high school students, they’re all somewhere along their driver’s licence journey. They know the theory – the rules – better than I do, so get them to transfer that knowledge to their reading, and then their writing. Get them to think of punctuation as a traffic sign for readers. So:

  • , and ; are ‘Give Way’ signs – pause, but you can keep the wheels rolling.

  • . ? ! and : are ‘Stop’ signs – come to a complete stop (head moving forward then back again – LOL). Plenty of time to take a good breath.

Hearing the reading

Once you’ve recovered from realising your seniors struggle to read aloud, you’ll understand why they struggle to proofread their work, especially for sentence structures. They can’t hear it like you and I do, because they can’t read it properly. When I proofread, I read my work aloud. Even when I read ‘in my head’, I’m hearing it. Your students struggle with this, thanks, I believe, to times where students don’t read literature as much as they once did, and where teachers are so busy they don’t often have time to get students to read aloud. In fact, I want to go all out and say 99% of them can’t do this properly.

Drop the Dot!

To help, I invented a fun activity that my students and I named ‘Drop the Dot’. Five minutes to set up. Here’s how it’s done.

  1. Choose a text that’s reasonably light and that doesn’t include dialogue. (You don’t want to complicate things.)

  2. Photocopy a page, then highlight every full stop, question or exclamation mark, or colon. (It’s easier if you just have full stops to be honest.)

  3. Explain to your students what the ‘traffic signs’ of text are and what a reader must do when they reach them. Write this on the board (see them above).

  4. Tell students you’re going to read a passage aloud to them. Explain that when you hit a ‘stop’ sign, you’ll come to a complete stop and take a breath. They must listen for this and when they hear it ‘drop a dot’. That is, they mark a little full stop in their exercise book.

  5. Read the passage, exaggerating your stops and breaths a bit at first. This is why you highlight the full stops first – to remind you to do this.

  6. Once you’ve finished the passage, students count their dots. The one who’s spot on (excuse the pun) or closest is the winner. (Naturally, that’s a chocolate opportunity.)

So, this was a hit, and it became a massive competition. The best thing was that it was a genuine revelation to my students, and with a continued push, they've managed to transfer this to their proofreading.


Consider this: the only reason I knew to include the commas and full stops in this post was because I could hear what I was writing. Just as we learn to speak by listening to others, before we write, we must listen to others reading. Read aloud to your students. Get them to drop some dots. Then get your students to read their work aloud, paying attention to ‘road signs’, encouraging them to listen to it. First, they’ll get better at proofreading, hearing their work as they read aloud. Later, like you and me, they’ll be able to hear as they write.

Happy teaching!


For more literacy help, you might like these!

Proofread writing, alter syntax, edit sentences - 50 starter activities for literacy

Teach literacy a planning guide

Close reading literacy skills for high school

For more help in your English classroom, check out:

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