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Don't Tell Students How to Proofread -- Show Them

written by: Kellie Hayden • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 9/11/2012

The key steps to teaching proofreading to students in your classroom involves hands-on work. We expect our students to know how to do this, but do we ever really teach them the process?

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    It's All in the Process

    Strategies for teaching proofreading can include reading for content, organization, writing conventions, and style. As teachers, we can tell students until we are blue in the face that they need to proofread their work. However, until we show them the process of how to proofread, many students have no idea how to do it properly.

    Take Time to Proofread Steps to Teaching

    In order to improve the quality essays, short stories, research papers, poems, etc., the teacher needs to teach students the process of proofreading. The following are steps that students can follow plus tips on proofreading.

    1. After students have completed a writing piece, they need to put it down and physically walk away from it. This may seem like a waste of time; however, distancing oneself from the writing can help a writer see mistakes that he or she would have missed if he or she tried to proofread directly after finishing a piece.

    2. After a trip to the refrigerator or a quick text message, students need to read their pieces for meaning, completeness, clarity and structure. While completing this self assessment of writing, students should ask themselves the following questions as they read:

    • Does the piece make sense? Is it clear or does it have clarity?
    • Did I leave anything out?
    • Do I need to add additional ideas or words?
    • Do all paragraphs have topic sentences?
    • Are there good transitions between the big ideas?
    • If it is an essay, is there a clear introduction with thesis statement, body and conclusion? If it is a short story, is there a beginning, middle and end. If it is a poem, does it follow the rules?

    3. Once students have read through for content, clarity and organization, they need to focus on writing conventions. It is best if they take another break for the writing and refocus their efforts. Writing conventions include the following:

    • spelling
    • usage
    • grammar
    • mechanics

    It is not enough to focus on the red and green squiggle lines when typing a paper on a word processing program. Spell check and grammar check do not catch everything.

    An activity that teachers can do is to place random excerpts from student papers on the overhead with no names attached to the excerpt. The teacher can model how to check for writing conventions. Common student mistakes are run-ons, comma splices, fragments, subject-verb agreement and pronoun antecedent agreement problems.

    4. The last step is to do proofreading with peer editing. It always helps to have another read person read your writing to check for the things that you missed.

    Students will learn to implement these strategies in their writing over time. Teaching proofreading is an ongoing process. It does not happen in one sitting, and it is ongoing.

    Resources and references:

    Editing and Proofreading,

    Strategies for Proofreading,

    Proofreading and Editing Tips,

    Photo credit:

    Kellie Hayden

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