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Collaborate and coach writers


In this lesson on the writing process, students will learn how to act as coaches during the writing process. Copy editors must learn to tactfully and expertly work within a team environment to build staff writers’ confidence as they revise and proofread. It is most beneficial if the entire staff understands this process. It is important that before using this activity, the adviser has reviewed each of the individual skills to be used in the editing process. Copy editing takes practice. Then, the staff will feel confident to address these copy editing skills in each other’s writing.


  • Study how other writers have revised their work.
  • Revise articles by highlighting text, making marks with pen, pencil and marker tools and adding text comments.
  • Share revised work with others and save a “history” of the revision process for any of the articles.
  • Collaborate with one or more staff members on a project by adding revisions on separate layers and saving the work to the Google Docs or a like program.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.


50 minutes (or longer, depending on skill of staff)


Completed first drafts of student articles (Shared hard copy or via Google Docs)

Copy editing 3×5 cards

AP Style Manual



Lesson step-by-step

1. Instructions —10 minutes

Explain to students that they are doing a peer edit of their colleague’s first draft. Their responses or comments to the articles they are about to read need to be constructive, sincere and logical suggestions to improve the 2nd and perhaps final revisions or proofreading of these articles. It is important for journalism staff to realize that as a copy editing group, they will react to the writing in a way similar to the student audience who will read the newspaper, yearbook on online post. This is a critical response group.

Each student needs to have either hard copies to exchange or they should have shared their writing assignments on Google Docs or a similar program.

Each student will randomly draw one or perhaps two of the 3×5 editing cards. Each card lists a attribute or writing element the editors will consider and address as they read one another’s writing. It is important to note that individuals are not editing for every possible error in the writing. They are reacting or assessing only what is on the 3×5 card they selected.

Students will have 3-4 minutes to read each draft and make their comments before rotating to the next article. This way, one student will have read every article while editing for a single element (for example, the student assigned sentence fragments will edit for this across all of the articles). Teacher note: depending on how the articles are shared (hard copy, on a computer, or a mix) you may find it easier to move students around the room to editing stations. If everything is in hard copy, students can stay at their desks and pass articles around in a circle.

2. Editing —30 minutes (3-4 minutes per article)

Allow students to work silently. It is the adviser or editor’s responsibility to keep the peer editing focused. Timing of this activity forces students to be attentive to the copy editing process and providing comments for as many articles as possible.

The goal is for each and every member to exchange all articles with all staff members. Students must concentrate and  make at least one positive comment along with their constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

3. Review — 10 minutes

After 30 minutes, return all copies to their original writer so that students can review comments. It is imperative to give student journalists time to read comments during the same period as the activity started. If there is time at the conclusion of the class period, students should be allowed to discuss comments further and ask questions.


For this assignment, the teacher assesses the feedback by placing students in focus groups to discuss the relevance and significance of the suggestions and comments as well as how they as writers incorporated the suggestions and comments into their revision process.

The adviser is also a member of the revision team in that he or she has read the comments and assessed the relevance of these comments from each staff member to ensure that the suggestions for revision are apt advice to each writer.

For this copy editing assignment, the teacher assesses the feedback on the article and not the article itself. The rubric below may be used for assessing compliments, questions, and suggestions.


Fair(1 point) Good(3 points) Excellent(5 points) Total points
Compliments Insincere, vague, sarcastic or mean; could potentially be written on the top of any paper, maybe without reading it; compliments skin-deep qualities like grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. too early in the drafting process Sincere but too vague; or, sincere and specific but lacks elaboration and reasoning and doesn’t say why one part is better than another; or, includes elaboration and reasoning but doesn’t pinpoint or address the writing Descriptive & detailed, gives reasoning as to why one part of writing is better than another and elaborates on why, pinpointing qualities of good writing; compliments large, structural topics in specific ways, not just small parts ____ / 5
Questions General, offensive, random, or sarcastic; unrelated to the writing; offers little to no explanation after the question is asked; question may be closed-ended Sincere and answerable but not specific; open-ended but encourages small instead of big changes; lacks an elaborative statement after the question, i.e. responder doesn’t say why he or she wants to know Usually open-ended, clarifies unclear parts, or requests more of what is good, or encourages big changes. Following the question, responder offers potential answers, or says why the author should answer the question, or how answering the question will help readers ____ / 5
Suggestions Uses “you should” and sounds authoritative, mean, or sarcastic; offers no explanation or elaboration or examples; lacks relevance to the writing; suggests no large, overall, structural changes Sincere but not enough elaboration; not as collaborative as it could be; elaboration not detailed enough and/or lacks examples; shows where improvements can be made but lacks direction as to how improvements might be made; suggests some structural changes Collaboratively reasons with the author; offers specific ideas with examples using 1st-person language instead of “you should”; uses collaborative words like “could,” “maybe,” and “for example”; discovers trends, suggests large, structural changes, and says where, how, and why those changes might happen ____ / 5
Total points ____ / 15

Rubric created by Derek Smith

Optional background to share with students

Good writing is a dynamic process. In a publication workshop environment, the ability to share and collaborate is the most effective method to insure a better quality of published articles. Only with practice and an understanding that the best writing always has more than one or two drafts, will students begin to not only see improvement and proficiency in their work, but they will realize the impact that their writing has on their audience.

Indispensable to writers and their publications is the need to learn good copyediting. Writing instructor, James Glen Stoval said, “The most valuable people to have around are proficient copyeditors. They raise the quality of the publication in ways that no other journalists can match.” From grammar rules and punctuation to the nuances of meaning through the use of fundamental writing techniques, the proficient use and understanding of language develops the basic skills necessary for all writers to become not only good copyeditors, but also, good writers.

Copyediting, however, involves more than just fixing the mechanical mistakes in a story. Copyeditors are staff leaders who must assert themselves and take the initiative to decide when a story is incorrect or when it has the wrong emphasis. They incur the responsibility of making tactful suggestions to the writer to make the writing more effective.

Ultimately, copy editors have the job of making the decision to change not only the mechanical mistakes in the writing, but also, to utilize their critical thinking abilities as they make value judgment that might determine whether or not to eliminate the article from being published because it lacks sources, may contain editorialized comments or libelous material. They determine if the writing meets the requirements and standards of the assignment.

Copy editors must learn to tactfully and expertly work within a team environment to build staff writers’ confidence as they revise and proofread. It is most beneficial if the entire staff understands this process.

Optional pre-activity for this lesson

The adviser can present 10-15 minute mini review lessons based on the following topics if students need skills review prior to the editing exercise. Additional writing and content considerations may be added to the following critical writing skills taught throughout the semester:


  • Has the lead caught the attention of the reader in an authentic way?
  • Check for attention catching lead sentence. Concise… 30 words or less


  • What is the purpose of the article?
  • Has the writer included a nut graf? If not, why not?
  • In a feature story, the nut graf is the essence of the “so what?” Placed after lead. What’s the point?


  • Has the writer clearly sourced, attributed all information that is not general knowledge?
  • Do student writers know the ways to analyze writing for fact-checking? Do they know how to insure that writers use appropriate facts and data to have the story give readers enough tools to get involved? (phone numbers, web sites, links, contacts, sources, facts?
  • Students need to learn to objectively respond to articles to give the author a realistic response and comment about how audience and sources will react to the story. (i.e.)
    • Has the writer violated trust?
    • Included information without context?
    • Padded the article with “fluff” or personal comments? Needs research?
    • Caused subjects of the story unnecessary embarrassment?
    • Does the story have anything readers may find offensive or objectionable?
  • Has the writer eliminated all of the dull, unnecessary say nothing quotations? How can writers recognize these and improve the quality of source information? Ask to see their interview questions?
  • Has the writer told the story in a fair way? Are all sides of the issue represented?
  • Is the reporter writing the editorial? If not, is the choice of first person or second person appropriate to the nature of the story? If not, use third person consistently.
  • Does the writer include precise attribution?  Said is a perfect word.
  • Veritable strong ideas supportive relevant interesting. Are there a minimum of three sources and a diversity of voices?
  • Are facts accurate? FACT CHECK! Can reader clearly tell fact from opinion?
  • What information needs to be reworded, cut, adjusted or added to the article?
  • Has the writer eliminated inappropriate word choices? “Sucks” “Freaking”
  • Has the writer eliminated “flab”? Unnecessary adverbs? (“ly” words) Adjectives? Does writing stay free of editorializing that comes from adding “loaded words”? These are words that may add extra flavor to the writing but whose connotation may be used to interpret the information incorrectly?
  • Does the story have anything readers may find offensive or objectionable?
  • Does the story back up the angle from the lead?

SENTENCES:  (fluency, transition, clarity, verb and pronoun use)

  • Does the writing employ transitions and is it well-organized?

READ the writing ALOUD! Can the copy editor or writer hear confusing information? If so, check for fragments or run-ons. Check for incorrect word choice.

Is consistent verb tense used throughout the article?

  • Check to see that the writer has used concise paragraphs. (graphs)
  • Ask the writer to eliminate trite clichés.
  • Can student writers recognize the correct usage of Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement? (he, she, they, their, its)
  • Has the writer used direct, simple sentences but avoided sentence fragments?
  • Use active voice (is, am, are, was, were, be, been, being, become) No “BE” words!
  • Have awkward phrases, “when asked” or “concluded” been eliminated?
  • Do you personally understand everything in the story?
  • Is story told in compelling way? Why should the reader care?

Revising List adapted in part from Tim Harrower, Inside Reporting, “Deadline Checklist,” p. 59.


For practice and review, several grammar and/or punctuation exercises may be incorporated. One suggestion:

Podcasts and Bellringers

June Casagrande has presented a number of clear, concise and specific podcasts that can be used in the classroom as excellent bell-ringers. These can be found for no charge, FREE, on iTunes: