Three Ways to Introduce Personal Editing Checklists in Writing Workshop

I looooove a good checklist. I use checklists for EVERYTHING. From grocery shopping, to spring cleaning, to packing the car for a weekend away.

I definitely use checklists for editing, as well.

The thing is, as much as I love checklists, not every checklist for editing works well for me. Often, a generic editing checklist:

  1. Does not include the mistakes that I personally make
  2. Includes too many items that aren’t relevant to what I’m writing
  3. Is too general to be useful–not specific enough

The most helpful for thing for me is to create my own individual checklist. To create a helpful personal checklist I need to do a few things:

  1. Be aware of the specific mistakes that I personally tend to make
  2. Be aware of what will be most relevant to what I’m writing
  3. Make the checklist as specific as possible so I don’t miss anything

Through trial and error and years of experience I’ve come to believe that all of the above is true for students as well. Too often I have observed students trying their best to use a generic checklist, but read through their own mistakes anyway. I know I’m not alone. As a literacy coach, help with grammar, mechanics, and editing are among the most common requests I receive from the teachers I work with.

Introducing and maintaining individual checklists for students might sound overwhelming, but they really aren’t any more or less complicated than generic, whole-class checklists if you break it down step by step. Here are three different ways you might introduce individual editing checklists to your students.

INDIVIDUAL CONFERENCE

In an individual conference with a student, the student and I can study their writing closely together for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I usually do this in one of three ways depending on my relationship with the student:

  1. The student reads aloud their own work and I coach by “pressing pause” each time I notice something that doesn’t look or sound quite right.
  2. I read aloud the student’s work to them and they “press pause” each time something doesn’t look or sound right.
  3. We do one of the above, only with just one specific lens (such as end punctuation, or capitalization), instead of pausing for everything.

In each scenario, when the student or I “presses pause,” this is an opportunity for me to say, “Does this sound right to you? Look right? Make sense?” or, I might model a different way the sentence could go, saying, “In this kind of writing, this sentence could go like _______. Does that sound right to you for your writing?” And then the student makes the edit. Once the edit is made, we can add that item to the personal editing checklist in a very specific, but still transferable way. For example, instead of just writing “punctuation,” we might add, “end punctutation,” or “capitalize names.”

Often, once the student and I have discussed, edited, and added one thing to the editing checklist, I’ll focus the rest of the reading/editing/discussion on that one thing. Other times, I might go ahead and add a second item to the checklist, especially if the first item was something pretty familiar to the student.

Once the editing checklist is created, it needs to go someplace easy to access, but also where it won’t get lost easily. I like to tape it right to the front or back of the writing folder or notebook, or sometimes right onto the student’s table-spot or desk if that is the place where they are most often working.

WHOLE CLASS MINILESSONS

Another way to introduce personal checklists can be to demonstrate reading a page of your own writing closely for one thing (take end punctuation as an example). Then, after finding one or two places to edit, add end punctuation to your own personal checklist. Then have students try it on their own pieces of writing, only adding end punctuation if it is something they actually found needed editing in their own writing.

You can highlight for students that the personal editing checklist will only list two or three very specific things that each student actually does need to check for.

Once you’ve modeled one item for the checklist, you might have time, in a minilesson, to add one more. As students go off to their spots for writing workshop that day, some will have one or two items on their checklist while others will still have empty checklists. That’s okay! You can let them know that you’ll be giving them more to think about throughout the workshop.

With editing checklists established, you can use mid-workshop interruptions to suggest one or two more items for all your students to consider adding to their checklists. You can also circulate from table to table making more suggestions, tailoring your suggestions to the needs of the students in front of you.

Introducing checklists this way will probably be most effective if you:

  1. Model and suggest items that are as specific as possible. For example, don’t just model editing “for spelling.” Narrow it down and edit just for a recently studied spelling pattern that you know most of your students should probably check for ( -ed endings for example, or word wall words).
  2. Use your own writing as the non-example, not a piece of student writing, so that you send the message that everybody edits, even adults. Also so that students aren’t thinking they might be next if you use a student example. (Student work is great to use as mentors/examples to be followed.)
  3. Model that editing requires reading word-by-word. You may need to exaggerate this, reading your own writing aloud, pointing under each word, rather than quickly and fluently like regular reading.  
  4. Model editing as a craft move, rather than rule-following. Use language like, “One way this could go… but another way it could go….” or “In this type of text it usually sounds like…” Think aloud about the reasons why you are making the change. (“This will make it read more smoothly, or more lively, or more beautifully, or make it easier to read…), rather than implying that you are “correcting,” or “fixing,” your writing. The most staunch grammarians will have you know that there is almost ALWAYS more than one way to construct a sentence. It is all about audience and purpose, and having choices as an author.

PARTNER WORK

A third way to introduce a personal editing checklist works well if you already have established long-term writing partnerships in your classroom. If students have been introduced to partner expectations and routines and things are running fairly smoothly with partners, they can be a huge support with editing.

It is incredibly challenging, even for adults, to successfully edit your own writing. After all, if you are the one who made the errors to begin with, how likely is it that you will find those errors? It’s very hard to catch your own mistakes even if you know a lot about grammar, spelling, and mechanics. A trusted partner can help you by reading your writing and gently letting you know where things could use a little work.

One way to introduce personal checklists to partnerships in a minilesson, is to share an anchor chart that lists a number of possible items for personal checklists. Then pose the question, “Which items could go on your writing partner’s checklist?” After a quick demonstration using your own writing checklist, send students off with blank checklists. Their job is to help each other find two or three items to put on their own checklists and then continue on with their writing for the day.

Creating the checklist usually only takes a few minutes. Many students know right away exactly what to put on their own checklist. I often do a bit of prompting and coaching to make sure partners read each other’s work and consider what really needs to go on the checklist.

At the end of that day’s writing workshop, now that everybody has an individual checklist started, I say to students, “Now that you’ve had time to write today, I’d like you to get back with your partner. This time you will read your writing aloud to your partner, and your partner will look for and listen for just the things on your checklist.”

When partners hear something that could be fixed up, they can “press pause” and then coach each other to fix it up. In partner work (and in conferring and whole group work) I have found it helpful to use the same prompts we often use in reading to self-monitor:

  1. Does it look right?
  2. Does it sound right?
  3. Does it make sense?

NOW THAT YOU’VE GOT CHECKLISTS

The last thing left is to make sure the checklists get used. Editing is a habit, rather than a one-time-only action for writers. It’s wise to make editing a small part of each writing workshop, rather than a once in a while “mega-lesson.” Many teachers take the last minute or two of each writing workshop to do an “editing minute.” Just a few minutes before it’s time to wrap up, ask your students to take out their individual checklists. Then ask them to pick just one thing off the checklist to read for, for that day. This can be the last thing they do each day of writing workshop before they come to the meeting area for the share or reflection time end the workshop. This builds good habits as writers: rereading your writing one last time before losing your train of thought, wrapping up, or hitting “send.”