Teaching Grit, Character and Resilience through Literacy

Also known simply as “check your work before you hand it in!”

As English teachers, we lament and resent the relentless repetition of highlighting basic literacy errors in our students’ written work. Yet, we never seem to be able to eradicate this accuracy deficiency. All too common is because of the amount of work we cover in our curriculum, compounded by the need to mark several pieces of work produced as a result. It is hardly surprising that under such time pressure, inadequate attention was spent on some “natural” part of the the writing process, checking, proofreading, redrafting, checking again, until the piece is free from glaring errors. Unsurprisingly, such rush to produce written work has encouraged some sloppy attitudes towards work in our students as a consequence. “The teacher will do it”. 

It is time we made time. Bring back responsibility, pay attention to details and start crafting.

And the way to do it is through checking basic literacy errors, proofreading, drafting and redrafting. Highlighters and pens of various colours may be useful, too.

This is how I have been doing since last year after some calculation of estimated time required to mark all classes as a teacher with a full teaching load across all Key Stages (3 – 5).

My basic principle is simple. I direct my students to check their extended writing tasks in English by means of a literacy checklist after their initial drafts. Instead of collecting their books in to mark straightaway, then we move on to complete another piece of writing, I slow down the process and reduce the number of tasks. I spend the next lesson or two, including homework time, to guide them through the process of checking, proofreading and redrafting.

The result has been pleasing. In this way, I am able to give more feedback on developing reading and writing skills, plus addressing some stylistic issues relevant to the individuals or the group. Less time is spent on correcting basic errors. 
I use these lists and I customise to suit the nature of the writing tasks.

My drafting and redrafting process:

Start with basic literacy skills required in almost all types of texts.

1. Capital letters at the start of each sentence (green, or whatever colour, pen in hand)

2. Capital letters for proper nouns (people’s names, place names, days of week, month of the year and the Bible, etc.)

3. Full stops at the end of each sentence (unless it ends with a question, exclamation or ellipsis)

4. Possessive apostrophe 

5. Common homophones: there/their, our/are, were/where/we’re, etc.

Then depending on the task, customise by using key skills in Assessment Objectives, scaling up to the top band.


Check PEEAL – or PEDAL or whatever acronyms that are used – first (first draft) before using the checklist, then check…. 

6. Quotation marks

7. Hinge words/connectives/discourse markers

Writing (select features relevant to types and purposes of the texts:

6. Adjectives (use Dictionary app or online thesaurus to replace “nice” and “bad”

7. Adverbs

8. Similes

9. Metaphors

10. Alliteration

11. Repetition

12. Hyperboles

13. Oxymorons

14. Tones (humour, sarcasm)

15. Adverb sentence starter

16. -ing starter

17. Double adjective starter

18. One-word or a short sentence paragraph 

19. Imaginative paragraphing 

20. Full range of punctuation 

21. Statistics

22. Anecdotes

23. Technical language

24. Expert endorsement

25. Passive voice


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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4 Responses to Teaching Grit, Character and Resilience through Literacy

  1. suecowley says:

    Interesting blog, thanks. I find it fascinating that so often our students know *how* to use full stops, capital letters, paragraphs, etc. but so often they fail to do so (particularly in what they perceive to be a draft). I see my own kid doing it, and I pull him up on it but still it persists. I’ve wondered about why this is, and what the answer might be. I think you’re right that it is partly to do with speed, and the idea of insisting that children check their own drafts first is really important.

    I wonder too if one thing we could do that we sometimes forget, is to explain *why* technical accuracy is so important in writing. To try and get across the idea that any mistakes get in between the reader and the piece of writing, and that is why they are a problem, rather than because of what grade our piece of writing will receive. In order to do that, maybe one answer is to strengthen the sense of ‘audience’ that our students have for the pieces that they write (so often the only ‘audience’ is the teacher). It’s an interesting conundrum!

    • W. S. Lien says:

      I can’t agree with you more, Sue. I nearly used this question of inconsistency as my MEd research topic! I have asked my students over the years, and one of the most popular answers has always been because “it’s only a draft!” The emerging attitude is if it’s not “levelled”, it doesn’t warrant clinical attention. See what our exam culture has inculcated in our children’s attitude to learning!

      As you say, acknowledging the barrier of ambiguity and confusion between the author and the reader – caused by technical inaccuracy – may change their attitude. For example, they can quickly express their frustration when confronted by a piece of unpunctuated writing. However, such innate scrutiny is switched off when they become the writers themselves! How fascinating!

      No desire to craft our language bothers me.

      • suecowley says:

        Basically it has to matter to the student whether what they write is accurate, and I’m not quite sure how you get that through to them. I like getting them to do a ‘throw away’ piece first, like a stream of consciousness, and then go into ‘accurate mode’. It’s the difference between writing for yourself, and for an audience. You don’t have to redraft everything, you can just chuck it away, but when you do write for an audience, accuracy really matters.

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