Cathy Farr writes: Base Camp Editing

‘Base camp editing?’ I hear you ask. ‘What is she on about now??’

Well, at some stage during my visit to a schools the subject of editing will rear its ugly head; it’s a major bug-bear of mine (and one I constantly strive to improve on), and my comments and advice are met with expressions of relief from the teachers sitting in around the room.

But what do we really mean by editing in a classroom environment where pupils hardly have time to write something once, let alone six, seven, or even eight times (as is an author’s world of editing)?

I think of editing as combing through a piece of work: deleting, re-phrasing, adding, moving paragraphs, putting paragraphs back, changing the names, places, ages of characters, spelling, checking facts, etc, etc…

But can you imagine doing that in with a class of 10 year olds – or younger!?  I suspect not.  Even so, we need to get the idea of editing in a classroom setting (oBase camp editingr correcting, at least) into a child’s mindset –  the earlier the better – and we need to try to keep it there.  So, how do you go about dispossessing a child of the firm belief that a piece is ‘finished’ and ready to hand in, the second they put their pen (or pencil) down after that first flurry of getting words down on paper?

Answer:  Like so many things you teach them, your first step is to lead them by the hand.

Here’s a great way to start embedding the idea of looking for errors (the very basic premise of ‘editing’).  When I’m teaching this in class I use an extract from my novel, Moon Chase (Bridge Reader edition).  It’s great because the language is accessible for Years 4, 5 & 6 (and a bit younger), I know the book well and I don’t have to worry about any copyright issues as I wrote it in the first place; however, you could take any piece of writing or even write one yourself – or you could use the example below with my blessing.

Whichever approach you choose, it’s best to start with just a couple of paragraphs with built-in deliberate mistakes in spelling, tense and grammar pre-prepared by you. For example, this paragraph has 10 mistakes in it: see how many you can spot (and ‘Wil’ is not one of them, it’s spelt like that for a reason):

Wil yawned an stretched.  He walk out of the little cottage into the bright, sunny morning.  No, he really could here an animal howling, and by the look of it so could the hole village!  wil ran to the water barrel outside the front dor and kwickly splashed a handful of water over his face.  the water was freezing.  Now he really was awacke

…so, how many did you get? (The missing full stop at the end always catches them out!)

The first time you do this, go through the piece as a group; don’t just let them loose on their own, there’ll be carnage!  As I said, use any text you like, or even make it up on the board as you go if you’re feeling really brave.  Whichever way you choose to do this, make sure you’re armed with your own corrected and highlighted sheet (the first time I did this, I confidently told the class to look for 34 mistakes and, quite rightly, they found 37!)

Double line spacing is also a good idea, as it allows space for corrections to be written on the sheet and stuck into workbooks later.  Copying the text as they go can provide additional handwriting practice, but I find that it can muddy the water with weaker pupils, so, in my view, sticking and pasting later is best.
The first few times you do this, it’s important to let the children know how many mistakes they’re looking for at the outset to build their confidence.  I also find working in pairs is a good plan as you move forward.

Once they’re working on their own and have gone through the text, get them to swap sheets for marking (otherwise the cheating is horrendous, believe me!), an approach that is great for peer-marking, too.

As the children get more practiced, try them with longer texts with fewer mistakes. Having, say, only two mistakes makes them read and re-read the text several times until they find them, or read a correct piece as a class and then give them the same piece with errors built in; this familiarity with the text is a really great way to demonstrate how easy it is to miss the occasional error.

This introduction to editing is also a great confidence builder because it helps take away the fear of making mistakes with their own work – often a barrier to more creative writing.

Once the children have really got the hang of this, you can go a step further.  Half way through a writing task of their own, get the class to swap and mark each other’s work.  You could also give them up a couple of minutes to make suggestions as to how their peer might change, or even develop the piece (now we are talking real editing!); some pupils will take peer suggestions on board when they resume their own work, while others will reject them – both is fine.

So, there it is…Base Camp Editing – the first stopping post on the way to improving your pupils’ writing by changing, adding and even deleting!  Go on, give it a go, after all, what’s the worst that could happen?

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