This year, our first big writing unit was on personal narratives. I always look forward to this unit and for so many reasons. First, it seems like kids have an easier time writing about themselves or their lives than just about any other topic. You can typically get any student to write about himself or an experience he’s had - even those who claim to hate writing. Second, personal narratives are a great way for me to learn about my students. Narratives reveal everything from affinities, to life experiences, to information about the relationships they have with others. I think it’s a perfect way to start them off as writers!
There are a total of nine lessons in this unit and each has been written to last a day. However, when I completed this unit in my classroom, we spent a month working through the writing process. The point of each of these lessons is to identify big ideas or major steps in the process. But, you decide how the timing schedule will work for you and your group of students. You can easily extend one of these lessons to last several days.
Our focus today is editing. Students have chosen a topic, written a draft, expanded their ideas, and now are ready to begin editing. I teach them to use “COPS” anytime they are checking their work. I first learned to do this when I went through Orton Gillingham training as a way for students to check that their spelling work was complete and correct. I find that it’s helpful for both spelling tests and any other type of writing.
At the bottom of each chapter, students write COPS. As they move through and complete each step, they cross off the corresponding letter.
C - Capitalization. Are the beginnings of each sentence, the word I, and all proper nouns capitalized?
O - Organization. Even though this is the second letter, I have them save this step for last. It asks students to be sure that their work follows an order and is cohesive. This can be difficult to do in the middle of the editing process, so I have them save this for when all other corrections have been made. Of course, there are some students for whom this would make a perfect first step. You decide what is most appropriate for your students. In my room, I typically teach them one way to work through the process and as they become more proficient, tell them to do what works best for them.
P - Punctuation. This seems like the most obvious step in the writing process, but every year I am amazed at how many third graders do not end each sentence with a punctuation mark!
S - Spelling. For this step, they are expected to use our word wall, their personal dictionaries, their neighbors, me - whatever resources are in the room to help them fix spelling errors.
Students first work through the four steps independently. They work with a colored pencil so that I can see their revisions and so they remember to include their corrections when working on final copies. Once they have finished their entire piece, they trade papers with their writing partners and go through the whole process again. They make sure each student has a different color so that they clearly can see the two sets of corrections. Students then conference to discuss what they found in each others’ drafts.
At the end of our work time, I have students reflect on what they fixed in their pieces. Did they find patterns or repeated mistakes? I have them share any findings with their writing partner and discuss a goal they could set for themselves during their future writing.