Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson 

2007. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Genre: Teacher resource

Grade level range: Primary focus on grades 4 through 8, but adaptable for nearly any grade level


Can any book really make conventions fun to teach? Trust me, yes. This one does. It’s written in veteran teacher Jeff Anderson’s trademark witty style, and filled with examples (from literature) that show how to take students inside editing, and empower them to think like editors. This is important–for several reasons. Editing skills are emphasized in the Common Core Standards, and are a priority for virtually any business looking to hire people who will write. But–we don’t always think of this, but we should–being able to edit your own work is infinitely satisfying. So, if we want our students to be crackerjack editors, must we resort to what Jeff calls “the pedagogy of the 1800s: [teaching] editing by correcting and memorizing” (p. 3)? Not at all. In fact, as Jeff so masterfully demonstrates, correcting isn’t really teaching at all–no matter how much time and effort it takes.  The problem is, the writer rarely learns anything from the work we do, and so doesn’t know what to do next time. What’s more, too many corrections may confuse or discourage students. If it occurs to you that your students don’t even pay attention to your corrections, guess what? You’re almost certainly right. What if they not only paid attention, but got excited? What if editing was the highlight of their day? What if you could help them understand the reasons behind the conventions, and show them how the tiniest changes affect readers both intellectually and emotionally? If that sounds like an approach you can embrace, put down that heavy, cumbersome, ineffective red pen and order this book–today. It will literally change the way you think about conventions. Once you have it in hand, here are some suggestions for making the most of this incredible resource.

In the Classoom

1. Setting the stage. Books are meant to be read in different ways, and this one isn’t necessarily a book you’ll sit down and read cover to cover (like a mystery novel) prior to using it. Begin Everyday Editing by reading the Introduction plus the first three chapters. This much, Part I, sets the stage for setting up lessons, and will help you understand the premise of the book–which is to invite students into the world of editing through literature and fascinating examples. (Note: At some point, you may wish to consider sharing all or part of the Introduction aloud with students. It’s a terrific discussion starter!)

2. Reflecting and talking. If you are working with a reading group or partner (recommended), reflect on what you’ve read so far (Intro + Part I) by asking yourself questions like these:

  • What is editing instruction?
  • How has editing been taught traditionally (How was it taught to me?), and what has been the typical result?
  • What does Jeff Anderson mean when he says “I invite students to notice, to read like writers, to come into the world of editing–a friendly place rather than a punishing place”? (p. 15)
  • What do students learn from “playing around” with sentences, trying different patterns, as in Figure 2.2 (p. 21)?
  • Jeff talks about “reading like a writing teacher” (p. 22). What does this mean? Should all teachers do this?
  • What are some good things to remember in collecting sentences for use in instruction?

3. Exploring invitations. What does the word “invitation” make you think of? Take time to ponder the various kinds of invitations outlined and described in Chapter 3: The Invitation to Notice . . . Imitate . . . Collect . . . Write . . . Combine . . . Edit. Talk about how these various kinds of invitations can work individually–or together. Talk about ways you could use an invitation (or more than one) to open writers’ workshop. Also talk about various ways of engaging students: e.g., through discussion or by having them look examples from literature, having them choose favorites, vary patterns, play with punctuation. What does Jeff Anderson mean when he says of his teaching, “I follow some basic patterns teaching editing every day in my classroom. It may not always look like editing, but it is all part of the process of creating editors” (p. 46)? Why is creating editors a process?

4. Being a sentence collector. Before putting together your own lessons, take time to be a collector of sentences yourself. Use Jeff’s examples–which are marvelous–for inspiration, but take time to find as many of your own as you can. Draw from books your students love–and books you love. Explore picture books, chapter books, poetry, and nonfiction. Follow Jeff’s excellent tip (p. 22) and look right at the very beginning of a great book–for often that’s where some of the best writing is found. Admittedly, Jeff finds many of his examples within the first few pages–sometimes in the first lines. I’ll add my own suggestions here, too: Look at the beginnings and endings of chapters–and always at the last page or two of any book. Endings are often powerful, and last lines are sometimes the best of all. Warning: Once you begin to read for interesting sentence patterns and unusual uses of punctuation, you won’t be able to stop.

5. Envisioning logistics. Think about how you will display sentences to engage students in the course of presenting a lesson. Will you project sentences? Write them out? Do you want students to edit them on a Smartboard–or do their editing at tables or desks? Are you going to do some editing or rewriting or inmitating? How will you do that? Picture yourself as Jeff Anderson, using examples, sharing with your students, and take time to think through the logistics because sharing aloud and involving students as critics and (sometimes) writers or editors are essential to making these lessons work.

6. Exploring Lessons 1 to 10. Skim through Part II of the book, beginning with the Table of Contents, page viii. The whimsical titles (for Chapters 1 through 10 in Part II) span a range of conventional issues that often trip students up: serial commas, colons, capitals, apostrophes, verbs, paragraphs, and more. Each chapter is filled with enticing examples from outstanding literature–examples to which you can add your own. But best of all, these chapters are clearly intended as models of how the invitational approach can work. They’re not meant to encompass all the editing instruction you will offer in your class, but rather to inspire you to teach invitationally. And they are so well-ordered and detailed that you will easily see how to go about this. Think about which chapters you want to use specifically with your students–and what additional lessons you might create yourself, using these 10 chapters as models.

7. Choosing a place to begin. Pick one chapter to start with–say, the serial comma (“Did You Make the List?”), pages 49-59. Read it carefully, discussing features with your group as you go, and notice how the chapter is set up:

  • An Introduction, which shows what students will learn–and suggests misunderstandings you should anticipate
  • An opening model sentence that grabs our attention, like this one from Maya Angelou: “His room smelled of cooked grease, Lysol, and age” (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969, quoted in Anderson, 2007, p. 50).
  • Invitations . . . to notice things about the sentence, to imitate that sentence, to play with patterns, wording, or conventions in order to understand why everything Angelou did, from sensory detail to use of commas, was important.  

From one small sentence comes a world of meaning–and a universe of instructional possibilities. It’s the little things, like capitalizing Lysol or saying specifically what the room smelled of (instead of “The room smelled bad” or “The room smelled”). Teaching students that tiny changes matter creates editors. Step by step, detail by detail, students develop editors’ eyes. They come to understand that those things make a difference.

8. Celebrating your own students’ work. Notice the emphasis on celebrating. When students successfully (or mostly successfully) imitate a stellar sentence, creating their own version, Jeff takes time to celebrate their success, however modest: “If my students and I celebrate early and often, positive feelings about editing and views of themselves as writers and editors will blossom” (p. 52). To introduce students to the idea of celebrating things that are personally important, consider sharing Byrd Baylor’s book I’m in Charge of Celebrations (Look for a review coming up soon).

9. Getting into the rhythm. Once you have gone through a chapter or two successfully, you’ll have the rhythm down: “Digest” the introduction to see what outcomes are important, share a model sentence you think students will love (one from Jeff’s book or one you collected on your own), discuss it, imitate it, celebrate success, play with it, notice what impact changes may have, and use the original sentence and/or additional ones as inspiration to write, revise, and edit. If you’re thinking by now that this is more than a book about editing, that this book ingeniously combines editing and revision, bingo: spot on. This is a book about the power of change–and the power we can put into students’ hands when we put them in charge of manipulating text instead of directing them and hoping that somehow, miraculously, a few slashes with a red pen will “turn on the light.” 

10. Adding your own personal touch. Teach all ten of Jeff Anderson’s lessons if you wish; every one is a gem. Or skip around and inject some lessons of your own. You will need to be a sentence collector to do this, but that is a good thing. Your collection will give you endless lessons to teach, and your students will be inspired to be collectors, too.

Closing thoughts . . .

Reading Jeff’s book caused me to see the following sentences differently, particularly the second: “Imagine that you are an animal in the wild trying to avoid a prowling predator. If it can’t find you, it can’t eat you” (David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, Where in the Wild?, 2007, Introduction). Notice the rhythm of that second sentence, a rhythm accented by the comma. Notice the parallel structure, and the shortness of the words. They have punch. Notice also how that second sentence ends, with the two most important words of the whole message: “eat you.” Now imagine if the authors had written “You probably won’t be eaten if you can’t be found by the predator.” Same meaning–more or less. But the menacing tone, the rhythm, the voice, and the drama are all gone. Poof. Why? Passive voice, no parallel structure, awkward phrasing, and wordiness. Oh, yes: That strategically placed comma is gone, too. The stunning difference between the two versions causes me to see editing as an adventure filled with exciting possibilities. Why would we spend time tediously correcting errors that just happen to pop up in students’ writing when we could engage our writers in dynamic discussions about real writing, sparked by brilliant examples from today’s best writers? Thanks to Jeff Anderson for inviting us on an incredible journey that virtually electrifies editing instruction. Don’t miss this book.

Jeff Anderson is also the author of Mechanically Inclined (Stenhouse 2005) and the video set The Craft of Grammar (Stenhouse 2007). Visit Jeff at www.writeguy.net

Coming up . . .

Thanks for dropping by! Invite your teacher friends to visit Gurus, too. Later this week, we’ll be reviewing the incredible Where in the Wild? (see the quotation above), a nonfiction picture book that is generating a lot of buzz with its marvelous combination of stunning photography, poetry, and research. This book continues our theme of looking at ways to combine genres.