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10 Ways to Help Students Proofread Effectively

It’s human to occasionally write a typo or two, but what should an English teacher do when capable students make consistent, silly mistakes in their drafts?

Many students resist proofreading and editing at first because it means more “work”, and they’d rather just rely on spell check. Although it’s true that our students are busy and stretched thin, we teachers still have to defend the importance of taking that extra brief moment to proofread before printing or submitting. (Honestly, don’t most people need to think twice before they hit send?)

If your students’ mistakes are making you want to chuck your grading pen across the room in frustration (which I have done), check out this list of ideas.

(P.S. - You might also like this sister post, 10 Ways to Teach Revision to Teens.)

1. Establish the differences between proofreading, editing, and revising.
Don’t assume that students know the difference between finding errors, fixing errors, and changing content. (I’ve put these three vocab words on tests before!) Even if they do know the technical definitions, they might need coaching about exactly how to do each one.

2. Preach reading their work out loud.
SO many errors could be fixed if students just read their work out loud (“with vocal chords”, as we sometimes say in class), instead of just staring at the screen or reading it in their heads. This strategy is critical to avoid sentences that aren’t clear, have dropped a word, or have written clumsy word choices. There’s just no substitute for this strategy. Check out a free activity here.

3. Pass out an awesome editing checklist.
...either a general one, or an assignment specific one. These are SO important for students, and if they’re smart, they will reuse the checklist on all writing assignments (if not carry it with them to the next school year).

Even better, pair that checklist with task cards that help them focus on one checklist task at a time (and make editing more tactile). Use my Editing Checklist, Activity, and Task Cards Kit to get started ASAP!

4. Encourage using at least TWO spell checkers…
Why not mandate students to use spell check AND a free account on Hemingway or Grammarly? (NOTE: I usually show students how to use each one and discuss pros and cons. For example, Hemingway is great for identifying passive voice, but the downside is that it values conciseness and simplicity more than I think is necessary.)

5. ...and show students the errors that spell check misses.
One of my favorite activities involves giving students a paragraph of text (that I wrote) with intentionally-planted errors in it, copying the text into different websites, and noticing which sites catch different errors. It's always VERY eye-opening for students!

6. Keep the bar high on your rubric.
This one may require you to get support from your English department, but don’t be afraid to make very clear expectations for the number of errors students can make and earn a certain grade. Here's an example of what my rubrics usually look like...

7. Proofread on a screen AND a printed page.
This is purely anecdotal, but I really think that we notice errors more easily with a pen and a printed draft. (Want to prove me wrong? Ask students to do both screen and paper before voting on which is more effective.)

8. Make peer editing a competition.
Now, this is risky, but hear me out: put students in partners and ask who can find MORE errors in their friend’s draft. (To keep them from going overboard, tell them that they could be penalized for “grammar fraud” if they point out too many spots that are NOT errors!) Get that activity for FREE here!

9. Host a contest.
In the past, I have challenged students to write “the perfect paragraph” or “the perfect essay”. I accepted volunteers to put their papers under the document camera for the whole class to view, and then we scoured his or her writing as a class to see if anyone could rise to the challenge. (Candy was usually involved as a prize, in addition to Epic Bragging Rights!)

10. Track progress over time.
Chart how many errors students make in final drafts, and take pride in those numbers falling over time! Get a FREE tracking sheet here.

You might also like to view…
Do you have more ideas? Tell us in the comments!

5 Ways To Bring Humor Into Your English Classroom

E.E Cummings said, “The most wasted of all the days is one without laughter,” and I think the same is true for a day in the classroom.  Even if we aren’t a natural stand-up comedian, bringing content related humor into your ELA class (or any class for that matter) will not only make for a more positive learning environment, but will also help your students retain the content you are teaching.  By doing these 5 simple things, you won’t only bring a smile to your students’ faces, but you will also help them feel more comfortable in your classroom to engage which will allow them to more easily connect with content and skills.

Put a smile on your students’ faces when they enter by having some humorous decorations on your classroom bulletin boards.  With a quick search online, you can find funny author memes or quotes, grammar jokes, or ironic moments to display on a board each week.  Having relevant humorous material in the classroom will put your students at ease and make the classroom a more welcoming environment.  One of my favorite ELA displays that gets students attention is my “English Is Weird” poster set because it allows students to consider strange, surprising, and odd details about the English Language. 

Bring some performance into your middle and high school ELA class with Readers Theater.  If you are reading a short story, a play, or even a few chapters out of a novel, assign roles to a few of your students and have them do a dramatic presentation of the text.  All it takes are a few basic prompts and costumes, and you will be surprised at how the energy in your room changes.  I would often raid the costume room of the drama teacher for items/costumes or scrounge a few items from home.  Don’t feel like searching?  You could also assign roles to students the day before and tell them to bring in their own costume. When teaching a drama unit, I keep a costume section in my classroom, so I can easily have access to materials I might need for performance (see my Shakespeare inspired costumes below). 
One of my favorite short stories to do Readers Theater with is Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl.  While it is certainly uses dark humor, the frozen leg of lamb scene always gets students giggling, and they typically do better on questions or assessments related to this story because they more easily retain the discussions we had during the performance. Below are some of the props I use for this story.  Finding a fake lamb leg is nearly impossible, so I made one with a brown paper bag :).
If you want to instill a love of reading in your students, present them with texts that have an element of humor, irony, sarcasm, or surprise.  If you are teaching short stories, try a story like Charles by Shirley Jackson, a story with a surprise twist about a boy misbehaving at school or The Chaser by John Collier, a story about a love-potion gone wrong.  Bring satire into your upper high-school grades by having students read Body Ritual Among The Nacirema by Horace Miner, a paper on a little-known tribe living in North America with curious practices and customs (which actually describes the modern-day American – Nacirema spelled backwards).  If you are looking for some humorous poetry, you might want to check out “Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman, “Television” by Roald Dahl, or “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert William Service.

If you are teaching grammar, integrate real-life, funny spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors that relate into your instruction.  You can do this by adding a “commercial” slide into your presentation that includes a funny misuse of that grammar concept or some funny examples at the bottom of an assignment or worksheet.   Sadly, you will have absolutely no problem finding real-life examples.  A quick Google/Pinterest search will yield thousands of examples of grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors on tattoos, signs, cakes, social media posts, and the list goes on.  You could also dedicate a bulletin board in your classroom to grammar fails and have students find their own examples to post.

As much as they won’t admit it, teenagers get a kick out of their English teacher using groan-worthy wordplay.  Bringing puns into your classroom is an easy way to get a student laugh, or at the very least an eye-roll and a smirk.  It will also allow them to consider the nuances of the language and hopefully encourage them to share their own puns. Get your copy of this free poster set with food-related puns that give students some valuable or “sage” advice by clicking HERE. 

Here are some other easy ways to bring puns into the classroom: write a pun of the week on the board, give students an incentive or reward when they use wordplay in class appropriate to the content you are teaching (candy always works), or do a pun-related activity.  Click HERE to read a post on the blog by The SuperHERO Teacher that includes a free Decode The Pun activity.

I hope these ideas bring some laughs in your classroom and also help your students feel more comfortable and ready to learn.  Have other ideas to share?  Click the comment button at the bottom of the post and join the conversation.

Want even more ideas for bringing laughter into the ELA classroom?  Check out these activities and posts from other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers! 

Room 213 shares her thoughts on putting assessment aside and learning for the sheer enjoyment of it in her blog post: Learning Just For Fun?

Secondary Sara puts a fun medical twist on student skill development and goal-setting with her activities for curing “Procrastinitis” and other diseases.

Nouvelle ELA uses funny examples to help students learn how to analyze literary quotes - Literary Quote Analysis 

7 Ways to Use Music in Secondary ELA

Part way through some lesson last year, I said that my students should “let it go.” I don’t remember what “it” was, exactly, but I remember two or three students jumped up and threw their arms out and sang the line from Frozen. Then, one started making up new lyrics for the song based on my lesson. It was ridiculous and funny and it all happened so fast.

See, the thing is that we connect with music, and we don’t have to be particularly musical to do it. Music gets inside our heads and makes us feel things, and some tunes and lyrics never leave us.

Using music in secondary ELA is a great way to increase student engagement and productivity. Check out the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog for some amazing ideas and a freebie to get you started! By Danielle at Nouvelle ELA.

That’s why I (a non-musical person, by the way) love using music in the secondary ELA classroom. I’ve found that in middle school and high school, music breaks up a bit of the routine and allows students to access information that they may otherwise struggle with or find boring. Music can be used strategically (or just for fun!) in the secondary ELA classroom to increase engagement and retention.

Here are seven ways I use music in my English classroom.

 1. Present music as an avenue of direct instruction 

The easiest and most obvious way to use music in secondary ELA is to find a resource that puts a new concept to music. My favorite resource for using music in direct instruction is Flocabulary. I’ve used these short hip-hop videos to review story elements, introduce public speaking, and solidify some research skills.

I also LOVE sharing Schoolhouse Rock with my students. Y’all, Schoolhouse Rock was already looking dorky and dated when I was a kid, but just *lean in* to this with your students. Tell them that you KNOW it’s dorky, but that you’re going to embrace that together in your classroom.

2.  Introduce Song Analysis

Another way to use music as a tool for direct instruction is by presenting songs as texts to be explored, analyzed, and imitated. I use songs to teach plot, genre, and figurative language. They are a short and easily accessible text (3-5 min) that provide a lot of fodder for student discussion. I do a whole Song Analysis lesson as part of my Short Stories unit, and you can download that lesson for free HERE.

Using music in secondary ELA is a great way to increase student engagement and productivity. Check out these tips and download a freebie to get you started! By Danielle at Nouvelle ELA on the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog.

3.  Play music to encourage relaxation & focus

People from surgeons to athletes have been tapping into music’s relaxing properties before tackling a stressful situation. Remember Michael Phelps’ omnipresent headphones? We can allow our students the same opportunities and play some music while they’re writing, studying, or taking a test.

Along this same line, music can be used to inspire creative writing. Encourage students to develop playlists for a certain writing project they’re working on. I often share my writing playlists with students to give them some ideas – my playlist for a sappy YA romance novel is completely different from my dystopian fairy tale rewrite playlist. Students should be encouraged to choose music that moves them towards the end goal: being creative and productive and awesome!

4. Have students create songs to demonstrate learning

Music also makes a great option for a final project. Students can demonstrate what they've learned by making a song about it (or rewriting lyrics to a known song). My students write Symbolism Songs after reading Lord of the Flies or The Pearl, showing their interpretation of a symbol through music.

Symbolism Song Project by Danielle at Nouvelle ELA on TeachersPayTeachers

5. Show students how to create study songs

Anyone who learned “The Fifty Nifty United States” as a kid knows the power of music to help memorize information. I mean, that stuff really sticks! Students can use music to help them study hard facts or vocabulary and definitions. They don't have to be amazing musicians to find a tune to make it stick - just have them try out making a recording of an effort on their phones. There is a simple ioS app called Recorder for this, or you can get a more sophisticated piece of software like Audacity. Eventually, they'll choose what study methods work best for them, but you can at least show them this tool is available.

6. Encourage storytelling with operas & symphonies

You can also use music that's already out there and available to get students writing. Operas and symphonies both provide excellent opportunities for this, since they are a vehicle for a story anyway. You could play a piece from an opera and have students imagine the story. What emotions do they hear from the characters? Who's singing? What conflicts come to mind?

You could have students write or discuss the stories they come up with, or even act them out in a scene set to the music. Don't share the original plot with them -- let them explore many possible answers. This is a great way to get them to engage in some creative writing, as well as explore the storytelling devices of classical music.

7. Actually, you know… play some music

Also, you could just play music. :) Whenever I want to give students a set time to finish an activity, I put on a song or a playlist. For example, if students need 3-4 minutes to cut out foldables and title the pages of an interactive notebook spread, I'll put on a song. I also used the song “Final Countdown” last year for the last minutes that students assembled their writer’s workshop portfolios.

What are some creative ways that you use music in your classrooms? We'd love to hear from you in comments or on IG @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop. :)

Check out these other resources for using music by Coffee Shop teachers:
Grammar Activities: Musical Grammar Mistakes by Presto Plans
Analyzing Music Videos (Volume 2) by Stacey Lloyd

3 Ways to Get Your Teens to Dig Deeper

Do some of your students like to skate across the surface of things, just doing the bare minimum to get by? I certainly have my share every year. I also have quite a number of students who want to do their best, but they need more guidance to be able to push themselves to the next level. I've found that I get so much more out of my students when I do the following: 

Lessons and activities for middle and high school English
Students have a tendency to put their focus so much on creating a final product, that they skip over important parts of the process -- and those parts are where the magic happens. Unless we force their hand sometimes, many will take the easy way out and just "get 'er done." When my kids are reading, writing or speaking, I build in opp-ortunities in class that require them to slow down and think. Learning to analyze complex texts, for example, is difficult, but it's less so when students realize that even we English teachers have to go through a process when we analyze -- it doesn't just come to us magically. I also focus on the process when they write, taking them through the steps necessary to write something great. Giving an effective presentation requires a thinking process as well, so we spend time on that too. Even something as simple as a bell ringer prompt turns into an opportunity to dig deeper. Before they begin any prompt, students need to brainstorm. Then, in the following days (or later in the class), they spend time on the different skills they can use to turn the prompt into a effective piece of writing. You can try one of these by clicking here

All of this process work takes time, of course, but to me it's time very well spent.

Collaboration is an important part of the thinking process for so many reasons. The ability to listen and ask good questions during discussion is a key component of learning, because speaking allows us to explore our ideas; hearing the ideas of others helps us to take them even further. 

My students do a lot of work together in groups, but they need to be shown how to do that effectively too. Early in the semester, I take volunteers to the front of the room to help me model what effective collaboration looks like. Then, I provide discussion starters for the students to use when they work in groups. Most of the group activities I have them do require that they follow a process to get to an end product, so I constantly marry process with collaboration.

Lessons and activities for middle and high school English classes.
One of my favourite new tools for student collaboration are my placemats. They are not only colourful and fun to use, but they take students through a process they can follow when they work together in groups. I especially like them because they begin with individual reflections, some-thing many of our students need to do before they can share their ideas with others. Then, students are guid-ed through a process that helps them complete the task in a way that requires that they fully flesh out the idea on the placemat. 

Classroom decor
If we want our students to grow, they need to be willing to take risks. And, if we want them to do that, we need to provide them safe place to do so. One of the first activities I do each semester focuses on the importance of failure in life and learning. I love this activity because it gets the kids talking about learning from failure while I teach and model the skills they will need to be successful throughout the year. It is also the first time I will give them a formative assessment, as they get descriptive feedback on the responses they do for the unit. Using formative assessment is a sure way to encourage your students to try new things, to stretch just a little bit farther. (Would you like to grab the poster in the above image? Grab it  here.)

When we put a focus on process, collaboration and risk-taking, we give our students quite a gift. They won't often analyze a text or write an essay in years to come, but they will be working with others. They will need to think. They will definitely need to be friends with failure. By giving them a safe place to hone these skills, we are preparing them for a lifetime of learning.

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