Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Line editing


In this lesson on line editing, students bring first drafts to class for feedback from peers. The teacher or student leader gives two mini-lessons, one on sentence structure and one on reducing use of unnecessary words. The teacher or student leader asks students to apply these strategies to writing.


  • In an attempt to vary the sounds of sentences and write more efficiently, students will experiment will sentence structures (introductory subordinate clauses, introductory participial phrases, etc.) and line-edit with a focus on cutting unnecessary determiners, pronouns, and prepositions from sentences. Can a sentence be specific and dense simultaneously—and still sound original?
  • Students will  apply both strategies to a piece of writing three or more times.

Common Core State Standards

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.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.


Two 50-minute classes (or one class period and take-home work)


Class set: Communication: Journalism Education Today handouts

Completed second drafts of student writing. The more copies students bring to class, the better. (This lesson is intended to follow “Deep revision” a lesson included in this curriculum.)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

As with the previous lesson, explain to students that not all revision is the same, and it shouldn’t be. Soliciting true change for honest writing is no easy task and requires a variety of approaches. “Surface revision” is when authors cut, move, rearrange, or add sentences; expand, merge, or collapse sentences; or alter details, description, and phrasing. To steal a comparison from Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher, surface revision is akin to giving a car a new paint job, reupholstering the ceiling lining, or replacing the tires. It is not deep revision, and it is not final revision. (Final revision involves proofing for grammar, spelling, and AP Style, and making decisions about font and paper choice. More about deep revision can be found in this curriculum.) Revision usually happens in this order: deep revision, surface revision, and final revision.

This lesson works on the level of surface revision. Generally, students work to edit writing on the surface level—what we might call “line editing”—in two workshops: one on syntactical variation focusing on variety of sentence structure and one on compression focusing on efficiency and reduction of unnecessary words. Varying sentence structure allows an author to think more deliberately about the rhythm and momentum in a piece of writing, and reducing the use of unnecessary words honors the audience’s time. In this lesson, students attempt both.

2. Activity — 30 minutes

Distribute the handouts from Communication: Journalism Education Today and have students read through the articles and complete the exercises.

3. Review — 15 minutes

Go over the answers in class.

Day 2

1. Concept review — 20 minutes

Explain that you are going to learn about “syntactical variation.” You are introducing the idea of “variation in sentence structure” and encouraging students not to get discouraged by any unfamiliar grammatical terminology in the lesson. Together, you will learn and discuss new sentence structures by practicing as your go. As a class, you will introduce a new type of sentence structure, and students will rearrange their writing to match the introduced structure. Asks students to write the name of the clause and their example on a piece of paper as we go along. For each new sentence structure, ask for a volunteer or two to share how they rearranged their sentence. Provide feedback and extra examples as needed.

  • Start with an introductory subordinate clause. (A subordinate clause—also called a dependent clause—begins with a subordinate conjunction and contains a subject and a verb. The group of words will not form a complete sentence.)

Example: Before he went to the grocery store, he grabbed a fresh T-shirt…

  • Start with an introductory participial phrase. (A participial phrase begins with an –ing verb and can be used as an introductory phrase when it modifies the subject of the sentence it introduces. It also is not a complete sentence.)

Example: Running down the hallway, the soccer team practiced indoors…

  • Start with an infinitive (to + verb).

To balance the national budget, the executive and legislative branches must…

  • Re-name something with an appositive. (An appositive is a noun or noun phrase placed next to another noun or noun phrase to identify or re-name it. An appositive can appear nearly anywhere in a sentence.)

Example: Mr. Minks, a stealthy pirate of a principal, thinks he can enforce…

2. Example — 15 minutes

Teacher reads this excerpt of a Slam poem by Seattle poet Joshua Wilson:

At 3 a.m. when this city is map folded back under its own noise

And you read aloud to me with your glasses on, baby it’s sweet

Like a split-lipped envelope paper-cut

Sweet like a knee-cap rug burn

Like a boot crunching a beetle on a sidewalk

Like scraping toe knuckles on the bottom of a chlorine pool

Like a blue jay’s blood on yellow carpet

Like the gritty stink of new bathroom tile grout

Sweet like an underwater cackle

Like eating bar soap in half-inch hunks

Like a shard of glass in pineapple juice

It’s like an ear bleed

Like a fleck of cork in red wine

Like clover shaped tobacco specks at the bottom of a cigarette box

A leggy spider in a Styrofoam cup

Like holding warm root beer under your tongue

It’s like that. It’s like the pop burst of a light bulb in a darkened room

Whose splattered flash stains the inside of your eyelids

With fireworks.

– Joshua Wilson, “8” Threads of Windowsill Red Wax”

Explain that while some the voice in this poem comes from Wilson’s inclusion of original details and sensory descriptions, part of its success can be attributed to Wilson’s efficient use of language. Using language efficiently assists poets and journalists alike.

Wilson could have written:

Like splitting your lip when you get a paper-cut from an envelope

But instead:

Like a split-lipped envelope paper cut

Ask students to count the number of words in these phrases and calculate the savings. (The second example is a savings of 53%.) Give them a few minutes to silently pick a sentence, count the words, rewrite it in a longer version, and give a rough estimate of the savings.

Similarly, Wilson could have written:

Like scraping your knee on carpet and getting a bad rug burn

Instead he wrote:

Like a knee-cap rug burn

Again, give students a few minutes to choose another phrase, count the words in the phrase, and calculate the savings. (The second example is a savings of 50%.) What words got cut in these examples? Why might these kinds of words be unnecessary?

3. Activity — 15 minutes

Count the number of words in the article you brought today. Calculate 10% of the total. Cut that number of words from your article without cutting a sentence. Do this by cutting phrases and words that aren’t crucial to the meaning of the sentence, paragraph, or work as a whole. You may cut more than 10% if you wish.


Some of the concepts in this lesson may be new to secondary students. The teacher should assess on students’ willingness to experiment with new structures and efficient arrangements of words even if the experiments are not always successful.

Fair(1 point) Good(3 points) Excellent(5 points) Total points
Syntactical Variation / Efficiency On average, student attempts each new sentence structure one time On average, student attempts each new sentence structure two times On average, student attempts each new sentence structure three or more times ____ / 10
Efficiency and Compression Student successfully reduces the number of words in second-draft by 1-4%. Student successfully reduces the number of words in second-draft by 5-9%. Student successfully reduces the number of words in second-draft by 10% or more. ____ / 10
Total points ____ / 20