10 Ways to Help Students Proofread Effectively

It’s human to occasionally write a typo or two, but what should an English teacher do when capable students make consistent, silly mistakes in their drafts?

Many students resist proofreading and editing at first because it means more “work”, and they’d rather just rely on spell check. Although it’s true that our students are busy and stretched thin, we teachers still have to defend the importance of taking that extra brief moment to proofread before printing or submitting. (Honestly, don’t most people need to think twice before they hit send?)

If your students’ mistakes are making you want to chuck your grading pen across the room in frustration (which I have done), check out this list of ideas.

(P.S. - You might also like this sister post, 10 Ways to Teach Revision to Teens.)

1. Establish the differences between proofreading, editing, and revising.
Don’t assume that students know the difference between finding errors, fixing errors, and changing content. (I’ve put these three vocab words on tests before!) Even if they do know the technical definitions, they might need coaching about exactly how to do each one.

2. Preach reading their work out loud.
SO many errors could be fixed if students just read their work out loud (“with vocal chords”, as we sometimes say in class), instead of just staring at the screen or reading it in their heads. This strategy is critical to avoid sentences that aren’t clear, have dropped a word, or have written clumsy word choices. There’s just no substitute for this strategy. Check out a free activity here.

3. Pass out an awesome editing checklist.
...either a general one, or an assignment specific one. These are SO important for students, and if they’re smart, they will reuse the checklist on all writing assignments (if not carry it with them to the next school year).

Even better, pair that checklist with task cards that help them focus on one checklist task at a time (and make editing more tactile). Use my Editing Checklist, Activity, and Task Cards Kit to get started ASAP!

4. Encourage using at least TWO spell checkers…
Why not mandate students to use spell check AND a free account on Hemingway or Grammarly? (NOTE: I usually show students how to use each one and discuss pros and cons. For example, Hemingway is great for identifying passive voice, but the downside is that it values conciseness and simplicity more than I think is necessary.)

5. ...and show students the errors that spell check misses.
One of my favorite activities involves giving students a paragraph of text (that I wrote) with intentionally-planted errors in it, copying the text into different websites, and noticing which sites catch different errors. It's always VERY eye-opening for students!

6. Keep the bar high on your rubric.
This one may require you to get support from your English department, but don’t be afraid to make very clear expectations for the number of errors students can make and earn a certain grade. Here's an example of what my rubrics usually look like...

7. Proofread on a screen AND a printed page.
This is purely anecdotal, but I really think that we notice errors more easily with a pen and a printed draft. (Want to prove me wrong? Ask students to do both screen and paper before voting on which is more effective.)

8. Make peer editing a competition.
Now, this is risky, but hear me out: put students in partners and ask who can find MORE errors in their friend’s draft. (To keep them from going overboard, tell them that they could be penalized for “grammar fraud” if they point out too many spots that are NOT errors!) Get that activity for FREE here!

9. Host a contest.
In the past, I have challenged students to write “the perfect paragraph” or “the perfect essay”. I accepted volunteers to put their papers under the document camera for the whole class to view, and then we scoured his or her writing as a class to see if anyone could rise to the challenge. (Candy was usually involved as a prize, in addition to Epic Bragging Rights!)

10. Track progress over time.
Chart how many errors students make in final drafts, and take pride in those numbers falling over time! Get a FREE tracking sheet here.

You might also like to view…
Do you have more ideas? Tell us in the comments!
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