Many kids’ top writing priority is getting the thing done, often measured in length rather than quality. Reach the required number of words or pages, redo it in ink or simply hit the print key, and it’s finished. End of story—and a big mistake. Words require some switching around now; others need deleting and replacing. Ditto for ideas, facts, and details. Then there are those misspellings and squiggles, like commas, that need attention. Unfortunately, countless students leap from first draft to final copy in a single bound, without that all-important proofreading step. But it’s got to be done.
After prewriting activities like brainstorming, comes that first draft for getting things down on paper. Reworking and refining it all—in other words, proofreading it and making changes–must follow. Schools often present this as two distinct steps: revising targets phrasing and content; editing takes aim at punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Only after such polishing is it final copy time.
It’s all about language and content now, so prompt your child to eliminate such tired adjectives as good, nice, and great and reduce the number of adverbs, as well. Instead, he should get specific and go with strong verbs, such as, “That afternoon, a cat swept by her window,” instead of, “It got really, really windy.” And, whenever reasonable, he should also pass up linking and helping verbs, such as am, is, has, and have. Then there’s the problem of too many sentences starting with a and the, or pronouns like I, we, he, and they.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to catch these, and also double-check those verbs. Your child just folds a sheet of paper in half lengthwise, labeling the resulting columns, “First Word” and “Verbs.” Then, she lists the first word of every sentence and all verbs used. A pattern usually arises, ripe for revision. Finally, to make sure all ideas are adequately presented, well-organized, and make sense, she should read the piece out loud several times before giving you a listen. Both eyes and ears are required to get the job done right.
Now for the mechanics of it all—and advice to share:
- Divide words only between syllables; monosyllabic words can’t be divided.
- Keep to either the past or present tense throughout.
- Sentences must each have a subject and a verb to avoid fragments, unless writing such dialogue as, “Ready?”
- To correct run-ons, use a period between two complete sentences, a semicolon if the two are closely related, or add a conjunction (and, so, but) and a comma between them.
- Every paragraph requires one main idea, together with its supporting details and/or facts. New idea, new paragraph.
- For dialogue, a new paragraph begins whenever someone new speaks.
- Use apostrophes correctly.
- Use capital letters for proper nouns, sentences’ first word, and all nouns and adjectives in titles—not prepositions.
- Read the piece backward, last word to first, to catch misspellings.
Guiding the Steps
Share these tips and then stand back. Once your child has repeatedly reworked the piece and read it out loud, you can listen, too, and then take a look. But don’t make any corrections. Instead, place a faint checkmark beside each line that requires attention, be it for language, grammar, punctuation, or spelling. One checkmark per error; some lines may have several. Once corrected, all that’s needed is that last rewrite, and it’s teacher-ready–a good grade, a sure bet.