What if you could teach your kids to edit their own writing like pros?
THE WHAT: We all know kids spend hours writing in school, yet overall student writing quality has declined. In my own home, I noticed errors in my children’s written work–errors that were overlooked by teachers. I can’t blame our educators. After all, they’re dealing with school safety, budget cuts, standardized testing, technology, the achievement gap, etc. But as an ardent reader and writer, I cringe when I think of all the missed opportunities for my children to learn from those writing mistakes.
THE WHY: Does it matter if our children don’t learn the fundamentals of writing and communication? Yes! Writing skills are an important part of communication. Sure, we can edit our children’s papers and hand them over with little or no discussion. Eventually, they’ll need to be able to edit for themselves in college or in the workforce.
THE HOW: I took it upon myself to teach my kids to edit their own work. Using the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years on the editing process, I created a list of techniques for my young writers.
The best news? These tips & techniques are simple and easy to implement. Your child’s writing will improve significantly. You will teach your kids to edit on their own. I promise!
Edit Like a Pro Tip #1: Use Free Text-to-Speech Technology
Text-to-speech technology reads aloud digital text–the words on computers, smartphones, and tablets. It’s also called “read aloud” technology. All kinds of documents can be read aloud, including Word and Page documents.
When I wrote my first novel six years ago, I discovered the text-to-speech technology on Word. It’s one thing to read your own work in your head, straining to see any and all errors within the text; it’s another to hear it read aloud to you.
Even if you’ve read a written work a dozen times, there will be errors. Science backs this up. Our brains trick us into believing what we are reading is correct. We read what we think we should see on the page instead of actually reading the text word for word as written. Our brains auto-correct when we read our work silently.
For iOS, access Dictation & Speech in System Preferences. Make sure it’s turned on and customize your voice setting. Once it’s activated, highlight the text you want read aloud in your document and hit Shift-R. Now you can hear your written work read back to you!
For Windows, head to Settings and open Ease of Access. Enable the Narrator.
Teach your kids to use this feature. It will make identifying weaknesses in logic and grammar easier. It’s handy for catching pacing and tone issues as well. Plus, they’ll think it’s super cool!
Some free text-to-speech programs:
Edit Like a Pro Tip #2: Read It Aloud to Your Child (Team Reading)
This is similar to the TTS feature I mentioned above, but this time, you are the voice (versus the robotic voice of the computer).
Give it all you got! Use dramatic and fun sound effects, hand motions, facial expressions, and changes in tone. Your child will hear any issues with pacing and tone this way.
Ask them to listen for wishy-washy sentences, overuse of certain words, and unnecessary words.
Have a discussion after you read it aloud. You are tapping into auditory learning style here. Remember: Your goal is to teach your kids to edit by helping them to identifying weaknesses in their own writing.
SPELLING TIP: Any time you correct a misspelling for your child, have them write the correctly spelled word on a Post-It Note and stick it beside their workspace. More often than not, they’ll stare at the Post-It multiple times, and this repetition will reinforce proper spelling.
Edit Like a Pro Tip #3: Print Out the Document and Read It
I swear, my children type their papers on the computer and click submit. Really? How can you see your work for what it is if you only view it on the screen?
The short answer is: You can’t.
Our young people digest on screen so much information that contains typos, spelling, punctuation, and content errors that it becomes ingrained to ignore these errors. Moving away from the screen can prevent this pattern.
I’m a 42-year-old writer, and I print out my short stories. OfficeMax does a first-rate job printing and binding the many drafts of my novels. I print out drafts of my blog posts, too! This technique is beyond helpful. Reading a screen requires a different set of skills than reading on paper.
A NOTE ON HABIT WORDS: Habit words are words overused to the point that they bother your readers. We all have our own unique habit words. Most of us aren’t aware we overuse certain words until we do our own search, refine, and edit. For instance, I overuse the word just. When I edit, I omit all the justs from my work because leaving them in makes my writing sound weak. It’s never too soon to teach your kids to start thinking about word choice.
Edit Like a Pro Tip #4: Change the Font or Color of the Document
Changing the font size, style, or color will make the document look different. This helps to read what is actually written (not what the writer meant to write).
At this point, your young writer is doing everything possible to see their work from different angles.
FIRST DRAFT TIP: First drafts are a time to get thoughts and words down on paper. Ask that your children not edit as they get through that rough copy. Give them the freedom to stink! Yes, all first drafts stink. If your child has an editing toolbox (techniques to help them self-edit), they can go back and fix their mistakes later.
Edit Like a Pro Tip #5: Read to an Audience, Even if It’s the Family Pet
Your child can create an audience–siblings, the family pet, a posse of stuffed animals, etc. It doesn’t matter who listens, only that your child reads their word aloud so they can hear it. Having an audience raises the stakes and helps the writer take reading more seriously. Ask them to keep a pen handy, so they can markup their paper as they read it aloud to their audience.
Even at the age of six or seven, children are able to hear their most glaring mistakes when they read aloud their own work. Tweens & teens will hear their mistakes easily and quickly.
Edit Like a Pro Tip #6: Big Picture First, Line-by-Line Last
Ask your child to look at the big picture first. Examine the whole story, the thesis, and the supporting paragraphs. Note the concept and development of the story or argument. Save the spelling, grammar, and other details for last.
Use a ruler for line-by-line edits. This makes it easier to focus on the written work at the micro-level, proofreading for word choice, punctuation, and grammar.
These tips and techniques are simple, right? Teaching your child to edit like a pro doesn’t sound so difficult after all!
Use one or multiple of the following techniques to develop your child’s editing chops:
- Use Text-to-Speech Technology
- Read It Aloud to Your Child (Team Reading)
- Print Out the Document & Read It
- Change the Font or Color of the Document
- Read to an Audience, Even if It’s the Family Pet
- Big Picture First, Line-by-Line Last
I hope you (and your children) find these tips helpful. Look for next week’s review on grammar books and workbooks for middle schoolers. I consider it to be a companion post to this one.