editing · proofreading · revision · word choice

Be the first reader of your writing!

Imagine a student who is excited to share their writing with you. They want you to read it, but as soon as they read their writing aloud, they keep pausing to fix things on the page that don’t make sense. They realize they misspelled something, forgot punctuation, or used the wrong words. They pause. They cross out an error, add a word, etc. Then they start reading again… until they find another issue, which causes them to stop again. They continue reading until the writer stumbles across their words again. This cycle will continue indefinitely — unless it’s interrupted.

I’ve heard Lynne Dorfman, my co-author for both Welcome to Writing Workshop and Jump Into Writing, often say “Writers need to be the first readers of their work.” Lynne talks about the importance of having young writers reading their pieces, silently and/or aloud, before they share their writing with a peer or their teacher. It’s important for all writers to reread their writing so they can discover where it doesn’t read smoothly. This way, by the time they begin a writing conference or a peer conference, their writing — even if it’s a notebook entry — is ready to be shared with someone else.

In addition to my literacy consulting work, I’m homeschooling my daughter this year. (I never imagined homeschooling my children, but this was the right choice for our family for the 2021-22 school year.) About two weeks into our school year, I asked Isabelle if she was doing an editing minute, which she had done during the spring 2020 shut-down. (Click here to learn more from Beth Moore about how to implement an editing minute in your classroom.) She confessed she had “let that go.” Therefore, it took Isabelle three reads of her writing to get it to a place where it was ready to read aloud.

Take a listen to Isabelle doing the third read of a notebook entry after she fixed up spelling, punctuation, and made some word choice swaps.

I heard Lynne’s voice in my mind after the back-and-forth Isabelle went through to get her entry to a place where she was able to read it to someone else. That evening, I created a mini-chart for her to keep in her writing folder to use as a reminder of the kinds of things she should look for as the first reader of her writing.

These are some of the things Isabelle needs to think about before she shares her writing with someone.

The following day, I spent some time conferring with her about the importance of reading her writing aloud first to make sure it reads smoothly. I gave Isabelle the mini-chart (above) and told her to ask herself each question, and make the necessary changes, before she shared her writing with me.

Here’s the first read of Isabelle’s notebook entry after learning how to be the first reader of her work. I forgot to end the recording so you’ll also hear a bit about me talking to her about making sure all of the sentences make sense. As a result, here’s a peek at the revisions she made to that notebook entry after chatting with me.

Last week, Isabelle decided to further develop the second piece of writing. She revised, edited, and published it. In case you’re interested, you may read through her next steps, which she’s provided me permission to share in this post.

Just as I don’t obsess on language conventions when I’m consulting in classrooms, I think it’s crucial for all kids — including my own — to proofread their writing, by being the first reader of their work, to ensure that it makes sense. In fact, it’s not only a writing habit I want kids to learn, but it’s also an important life skill to master so one learns that anytime they’re putting something out — be it an email, a report, or a presentation — into the world it needs to be read through before sharing it.

4 thoughts on “Be the first reader of your writing!

  1. I love this idea. And the term being the “first reader” of one’s own writing…wow, that’s a lot for me to think about. I can’t wait to roll that out to my students and see what they think being the first reader of their OWN writing would mean, and how we can build those skills. Thank you!


  2. A great post with Isabelle’s revisions and edits as she rereads her work and has a conference with you. You clearly show us the value of teaching our students how to be the first reader of their work. I loved the mini chart you created for Isabelle’s writing folder. This post was a lot of work for you, but so helpful to teachers, regardless of their level of experience or the grade level they currently teach. Thank you, Stacey!


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