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How to Teach Proofreading Strategies

Proofreading Strategies

How to Teach Proofreading

Before sharing these proofreading strategies, let’s place proofreading in its proper place within the writing process. Although writing process purists would always relegate proofreading to the last step in the process: the editing step, many fine writers choose to proofread throughout the composition process. Especially with the advent of effective spelling and grammar tools on Microsoft Word® and other word processing programs, features such as “Auto Correct” may make the “proofread-continuously-and-throughout” approach preferable for some writers.

Proofreading should certainly be treated differently from writing revision. Proofreading focuses on conventional correctness, while revision works with the writer’s meaning-making, that is, ideas and how these ideas are expressed in exposition or how the story is told in narration. Although the divisions between the two processes are not always neat and tidy, most would agree that spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of quotes, paragraphs, usage, and some word choice issues belong to the proofreading process, while sentence variety, coherence, unity, transitions, and other word choice issues would belong to the revision process.

The Proofreading Process

The subject of proofreading having been better defined, let’s move on to the proofreading process. Up to 50 percent of all spelling and grammatical errors can be corrected by applying proofreading strategies. Many might question that percentage and ask, “How can writers find their own mistakes? If they knew how to write something correctly, wouldn’t they do so in the first place? No one intentionally makes mistakes.”

Writers make errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of quotes, paragraphs, usage, and word choice for a variety of reasons. Of course, ignorance is certainly a chief reason. However, writers also make mistakes due to carelessness or distractions. Writers may make mistakes when reflecting back on what they just wrote or thinking ahead to what they will write next. All writers have had the experience of thinking they are saying one thing, but actually saying another.

Although word processors have helpful tools, the human element of proofreading is still essential. There is no substitute for carefully re-reading one’s own work. Even if someone else has looked for mistakes, the writer best knows what is being said.

Proofreading Strategies

1. Proofread one paragraph at a time. Paragraphs are the writer’s divisions of meaning. A new paragraph means a new topic or a new voice. Thus, the writer must deal with the old completely, before moving on to the new. Complete all of the following proofreading strategies before moving on to the next paragraph. The corrections appear at the end of the article.


Silently read the three paragraphs all the way through. Then, re-read one paragraph at a time, consciously looking for errors. Most writers will find more errors when focused on one paragraph at a time.

“Come look at whats going on, but hurry, I said. I was certain the that admonition was exaggerated as, usual. But, I obediently want outside in to the darkness.

Amanda pointed up to the darkening sky “and said, this is very strange indeed.”

I found it hard too except what I saw in that sky. The the old familar moon was partially covered by a eclipse and had turned blood read.

2. Read the paragraph out loud. Pronunciation informs spelling and will provide an auditory check with the writer’s own oral language skills read for grammar, usage, and word choice.


Read the following silently at a normal reading pace. Then, read it out loud. Most will find that pronunciation helps the reader identify the correct meanings of the words from the spelling errors. The corrections appear at the end of the article.

Wunts ah pawn ah tyem, dare wur deez tree leddel peegz zat lift en dah zaym playz. Eggsulee, day lift en dare owen homz en dah viludg. Wun uv deez howez s wuz mayd uv ster aw, uhnudder ov stah ix, weth dah vest wun billt owd uv ber ix.

Wun mornen, de viludg wulf kaym dew balow dez peegz howz s dowen. De furest wunz kaym dowen eze, bud de ber ik howz wud ant fahel. De dum wulf klhimd uhp awn de ruf ant juppd dowen dah cha emne. Dah tree leddel peegz hadah boyleenk pahot uv wahder waytink en de fierplaz. Da wulf fel en de pahot ant de peegz ade im fer lahunj.


Used by kind permission of Random House from Better Spelling in 5 Minutes a Day, Mark Pennington, ©2001 Prima Publishing, p.108

3. If typed on a word processor, try increasing the font size or changing the font to see the words in a new way. Print it out to proofread. Different formats help us see things differently.

4. Focus on one specific proofreading issue at a time. For example, proofread the paragraph out loud for grammar mistakes. Then, proofread the same paragraph out loud for capitalization mistakes, etc.

5. Over-emphasize punctuation when you proofread out loud. Errors in commas and question marks are better identified with this strategy.

6. Use a 3 x 5 card with one corner cut out in order to isolate individual words. Then, proofread the paragraph by reading it backwards with the card, isolating one word at a time. Proofreading by isolating words helps because we often “read through” spelling or word choice errors because we know what we mean to say and because we read for meaning, instead of focusing on individual words.


Read the following silently at a normal reading pace. Then, read it out loud and backwards, using your finger to isolate each word. Most will find that isolation helps the reader identify spelling and word choice errors. The corrections appear at the end of the article.

Of corse, you were probally more suprised then I to here about the difficulties they where haveing.

7. Teach students and parents the common proofreading symbols and have both practice on each other’s papers.

8. Teach the commonly confused homonyms such as hear-here and there-their-they’re and tell students to be especially alert for these words when proofreading.

9. Waiting a few days allows a writer to edit with fresh eyes-so does having someone else proofread your paper.

10. Use spell check and grammar check on the word processor, but use them judiciously. Spell check misses homophones (words sounding the same, but spelled differently) and omitted words.


Read the following, noticing the homophones (sounds the same-spelled differently). None of these errors would be caught by word processing tools.

Eye no sum won named Spell Check.

He lives in my Pea See.

He’s  awl weighs their to try and help

When I hit a wrong key.

but when I rite an e-male,

On him I can’t depend.

I kneed two also proof reed

Bee four I push the SEND

Used by kind permission of Random House from Better Spelling in 5 Minutes a Day, Mark Pennington, ©2001 Prima Publishing, p.113

The E-Mail I wish I Hadn’t Sent

Dear Martha,

I’m so sad about what has happened to you! I’ve never seen such a huge waist, but their loss will be your gain. at least now I’ll get to see more of you. Remember, good things come to those who weight.

Your Friend, Through Thick and Tin,


P.S. Cheer up. You’ll find another job soon.

Used by kind permission of Random House from Better Spelling in 5 Minutes a Day, Mark Pennington, ©2001 Prima Publishing, p.114


“Come look at what’s going on, but hurry, I said. I was certain that the admonition was exaggerated, as usual. But, I obediently went outside into the darkness.

Amanda pointed up to the darkening sky and said, “This is very strange, indeed.”

I found it hard to accept what I saw in that sky. The the old familiar moon was partially covered by an eclipse and had turned blood red.


Once upon a time, there were these three little pigs that lived in the same place. Actually, they lived in their own homes in the village. One of these houses was made of straw, another of sticks, with the best one built out of bricks.

One morning, the village wolf came to blow these pigs’ houses down. The first ones came down easy, but the brick house wouldn’t fall. The dumb wolf climbed up on the roof and jumped down the chimney. The three little pigs had a boiling pot of water waiting in the fireplace. The wolf fell in the pot and the pigs ate him for lunch.

The End


Of course, you were probably more surprised than I to hear about the difficulties they were having.


Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies
The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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Process vs. On Demand Writing

Writing research has shown that one key ingredient to writing success is time. Developing writers need time to learn the writing craft, time to research/brainstorm, time to draft, and time to revise. However, ironically, time may in-it-of-itself be the greatest impediment standing in the way of writing profiency and fluency for many of our students.

Since the return of phonics-based reading instruction in the 1990s, elementary teachers have had to allocate more instructional time to direct instruction. With greater diversity in most states, more pressure to differentiate instruction in reading has compounded the problem of instructional minutes at all grade levels. Science, art, social studies, physical education, music, and writing have become the casualties of this time-theft.

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students both learn to write and succeed on these tests with no additional time allocated for writing instruction. The three approaches are 1. process writing 2. on demand writing and 3. a mix of the two.

Advocates of the process writing approach (Six Traits, National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, etc.) argue that frequent practice in all phases of the writing process i.e., research/brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing best helps writers develop writing fluency and proficiency. Advocates of the on demand approach argue that the above components can be streamlined into an integrated process, which teaches the writer to concurrently multi-task the drafting, revision, and editing steps with the quick bookends of planning and proofreading. Those teachers trying to please both masters have limited their process pieces and upped the amount of on demand writing tasks when the standardized writing test looms on the horizon.

Process writing proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics (punctuation, capitalization, and spelling) incidentally throughout the writing process or via targeted mini-lessons. On demand proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics explicitly through an established instructional scope and sequence. Those who try to combine process and on demand writing wind up relegating most grammatical and mechanics instruction to test preparation out of sheer time constraints.

A brief readers theater (tongue firmly planted in cheek) may help teachers of all writing approaches greater appreciate the challenge of teaching writing today.

Narrator: Here is a familiar scene in the teachers’ workroom. Two teachers kill time while waiting in line for the laminating machine. Their subject of discourse: an ongoing discussion of Process Writing versus On Demand Writing.

Teacher 1: I can’t believe that Mildred accidentally threw out my Writing Process charts when she rotated off-track. I’ve got to get new ones laminated and back on the wall. I’m lost without them!

Teacher 2: Are you still using those dumb charts? I thought that you must have dumped them by now. The Writing Process is “old school.” We dropped that with whole language years ago. Get with the program! It’s On Demand Writing, now. Oh by the way, I put back your Lucy McCormick Calkins book in your box; I have enough paperweights for my desk, thank you.

Teacher 1: You and your on demand writing tasks… You’re not teaching—all you are really doing is testing. Are you still passing out those grammar worksheets for homework? Remember, the research about writing says—

Teacher 2: Don’t give me that research stuff—I know what works for my kids. My language expression scores on the state test were much higher than yours. You’re lucky you’ve got tenure.

Teacher 1: Even when I didn’t, I never kissed the principal’s butt like you do. And I don’t teach to the test, like you do. My kids are learning how to think. They are writing to learn. Who cares if they know their subjects and predicates!

Teacher 2: Kids are going to have to spell, punctuate, capitalize, and use grammar correctly if they want to make it in today’s world. They’ve still got to be able to write in those blue books in college for a timed one-hour exam. They can’t just pick their own writing subject and do multiple drafts for a mid-term. You really need to get a Red Bull® and wake up to the real world.

Teacher 1: In the real world, students need to have the brains to say something. Outside of school, people have time to revise and edit. They have the time to be reflective. That’s what real authors do… They don’t have someone forcing them to write to a contrived prompt and then hovering over them with a stupid yellow timer.

Teacher 2: Now, you’re getting personal. My aunt gave me that yellow timer… Who writes your paycheck? Last I checked it was the school district. All our principal cares about is higher test scores. If you can’t show it, they don’t know it!

Teacher 1: That’s not why I got into teaching. I want to develop the whole child and nurture a love for learning. I just completed a trimester-long unit on the Haiku and its place in Japanese society…You should come in and see our published poems on the wall. We used real 24 carat gold to highlight—

Teacher 2: I bet I could find some punctuation mistakes—you with your peer editing groups. Talk about the “blind leading the blind.” I have students write one paragraph each day in indelible ink—no changes. I time them and have their desk partners count how many words the student has written in the 10 minutes. It sure saves a lot of teacher grading time. All I have to do is record the number of words in my grade book program. I can show you huge gains in words per minute.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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