Edit with a Smile

Aug 19, 2022 | Posted by Jill

Teaching writing would be my favorite job if it weren’t for grading. When a student hands in a composition and a teacher sees all the mistakes, how does one avoid the inevitable frustration? I found that the key to happiness is to make grading writing a two-step process: Edit first; grade second.

The point of editing is to make sure the piece is complete. When asked about grading papers, Andrew Pudewa says he uses the checklist. If anything is missing, he marks it incomplete and returns it to the student for revision. Thus, he never grades a paper until it has been completely edited, which is much easier!

Who does the editing? The student can learn how to edit, but every good writer has an outside editor. For students, that editor is usually a parent. Many parents feel ill-equipped to edit, but there are really only three rules to follow: Use the checklist, smile throughout the process, and help the student as much as needed.

The checklist is conveniently divided into three sections. Systematically go through each section, and check that the requirement listed has been met. Let’s go through these sections and discuss what each one means.

Structure. This section covers how the composition is put together. Check that the student has formatted his paper correctly (name and date in the right place, double spaced). Verify that the rules for the title, story sequence chart, or topic-clinchers have been followed. If anything is out of order, smile as you help your student correct it.

Style. This section lists the required dress-ups, sentence openers, and decorations and is a great spot to encourage your student. As you check the style, pick one or two of the techniques that stand out, and point out why you like them.

Be sure the stylistic techniques were used correctly. If not, help your student as much as needed. For example, if an imposter -ly word was used, laugh, and find or add a legal one. If two adjectives were underlined and the strong verb is missing, help your student correct the underlines.

Finally, check for banned words, and switch them out with synonyms using the word lists provided or a thesaurus.

Mechanics. The last section covers basic grammar and spelling. Since students are often more focused on writing than mechanics, give them grace as you help them edit their work.

The easiest way to check for mechanics is to read the composition aloud. As you read, correct it using a friendly color like blue, green, pink, or purple. Red pen is just too painful. Learn to use editing marks to streamline the process. You can find the most common ones here. While your ear will hear most grammar mistakes, keep your eyes open for these potential pitfalls:

  • Make sure every sentence ends with an end mark.
  • Fix capitalization errors (first word of each sentence, proper nouns/adjectives).
  • Add or delete commas as needed.
  • Correct spelling without comment. Resist the urge to give a lecture or a spelling lesson during an editing session. Smile!
  • If a sentence does not make sense, talk about it with your student, and help them express what they actually wanted to say.
  • Be sure to praise a sentence or two that sounds great!

Vocabulary. If you are using one of the theme-based books, the last section of the checklist reminds a student to label the vocabulary words for credit. Check that the words were used appropriately and count them. Congratulate your student for using them!

That’s it! Have your student take the edited piece and write it up neatly or apply the corrections to the typed document. Then direct him to assemble his document according to the checklist and hand it in for grading. He will feel confident that he has done his best. Furthermore, whoever ends up grading the piece will be grateful for the attention given to editing.

Following the checklist, smiling throughout the process, and helping as much as needed brings everyone joy. The most important thing is to always make editing part of the writing process. Students are learning and need help to remember the many things that go into writing. Be a cheerful writing coach. Work them hard, but help them as much as they need. Edit with a smile!

A Sample Editing Session

Many parents have found it helpful to read an example of how editing might work. Here is a Unit 2 paragraph a parent sent me that her elementary student had submitted. She wasn’t sure how best to fix it, so I sent her a little dialog. Here is the original paragraph:


Joe Student

8 September 2022

A Patriotic President


Andrew Jackson came from plain, common people. He was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans, in the

War of 1812. He was born in the backwoods of the carolinas in 1767. He fought against the British in the

American Revolution he was captured by a British officer ordered to shine his boots he bravely refused so

the officer slashed his face with a sword. Which left a scar on his face. Andrew Jackson was a patriotic



I always print out the copy to be edited because it is easier to edit a printed copy. When we are done marking the copy, the student can apply the fixes to the original. Handwritten rough drafts should be recopied or typed up, adding the fixes as he goes.

I usually start by thanking the student for his hard work and asking, “Did you use the checklist?” If not, I hand it back and have him do the first checking himself. If he had checked things off, then I thank him for doing that and cheerfully say, “Let’s check it out before it gets handed in for grading.”

Since the paragraph is from Unit 2, the structure is pretty simple: name and date in upper left-hand corner, double spaced, and following the title rule. These were all done correctly. The title is particularly interesting. Great job!

For style, this student was to add three dress-ups. Check the three underlines:

  • He bravely refused. Perfect. Bravely does a great job describing how Jackson refused the enemy officer.
  • Which left a scar. This is a great which clause, but it needs to be connected to a complete sentence—it cannot stand on its own. Fortunately, the fix is easy. All we have to do is attach it to the sentence before: … with a sword, which left a scar.
  • He was captured. This is a great strong verb. Good job!

To check the mechanics of this paragraph, read it aloud. Cheerfully correct any errors as you read:

  • Andrew Jackson came from plain, common people. Perfect!
  • He was a hero of the Battle of New Orleans, in the War of 1812. Almost perfect. Remove the comma since they are not needed before prepositions. Use a delete mark. (For a list of common editing marks, check out the blog post “Common Editing Marks.”
  • He was born in the backwoods of the carolinas in 1767. Carolinas should be capitalized (proper noun). Put three underlines under the c to remind the student to capitalize the letter. If a letter was capitalized and shouldn’t be, just put a slash through it.
  • He fought against the British in the American Revolution. This is a great sentence—it just needed a period at the end. Add the period and circle it so the student doesn’t miss getting it in there in the rewrite.
  • he was captured by a British officer ordered to shine his boots. This one is a little confusing. Was the British officer supposed to shine Jackson’s boots? Use a caret (^) to add the word and to fix: officer and ordered. This one also needs a capital letter at the start and a period at the end.
  • he bravely refused so the officer slashed his face with a sword, which left a scar on his face. Capitalize the first letter. There needs to be a comma before so. Add it in and circle it.
  • Andrew Jackson was a patriotic president. Perfect!

If you find you need help with the rules of grammar, do Fix It! Grammar with your children. You can learn right along with them and become a great editor!

Now that the editing is finished, tell your student he did a great job, and invite him to write it up neatly or apply the corrections to the typed document and reprint. Remind him to assemble the papers in the correct order according to the checklist to hand in for grading. If he remembers to apply all the corrections, he should get a 100 A+.


Jill Pike is a homeschooling mother of eight and an IEW® Accomplished Instructor. Serving the homeschool community, she provides support to thousands of teachers and parents. She has authored many lesson plans offered by the Institute for Excellence in Writing, including IEW’s popular reading and writing program, Primary Arts of Language. After graduating seven children, Jill and her husband, Greg, continue to home educate their youngest in Indiana.

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