Recently, I’ve had a few lessons where people have been wanting to work on improving their writing. Much of this is related to their desire to write essays for their academic programs, like the IB or for their university. They’re seeking out ways to make sure that their grade isn’t worsened by grammar or other language mistakes.
This is pretty normal, especially as a lot of people often feel like their writing isn’t as good as they wish it were because of the examples they’ve been given. So when one of my students wanted to solidify the writing in their TOK (Theory of Knowledge) essay, I took this as a moment to help teach them some of the best and most overlooked tools of how to write something that *feels* like something they can be proud of.
Throughout our lessons, we’ve been working on a range of skills. Sometimes it’s being able to refocus on basic grammar that goes overlooked, and other times it’s about figuring out what sounds good and can read well. This latter lesson is one that many people are still working on figuring out, and it’s something that I find more interesting to work on.
One of those strategies to develop writing is simply reading your work out loud or having it read back to you, both of which are simultaneously some of the most obvious but also under-utilised advice. People often think that it seems weird to read everything they write out loud, and they tend to be embarrassed if they do it (even if they’re alone). Yet, it’s one of those tools that helps people to catch really basic mistakes like missing words or words that *feel* incorrect. I genuinely can’t count the number of times that I’ve missed a word like ‘the’ and only managed to catch it because I couldn’t get through the sentence without getting stuck.
Having someone read it out loud does the same, but it informs someone one how another person is going to read their work. The same thing of reading your own work is true—you’re definitely able to find the mistakes you’ve made in the same way—but it also comes with the additional bonus that people will stop and go back when they don’t understand. This strategy helps the most with clarification and making sure your ideas make sense to someone else. This is perhaps the one strategy that really makes people feel embarrassed because we don’t often want someone else to read our work (though, I notice this is more often true with work that we’ve been tasked with doing, like homework).
Another thing that both of these do is help you to figure out the flow of a piece of writing. Not all sentences are equal for the same purposes, even when you can write two sentences that effectively mean the same thing even though they look quite different. Sometimes you need to figure out which sentence fits better, both in terms of the tone of the piece (how you sound when reading it) and how it fits into the rhythm of the writing (how it sounds when it’s spoken). This part is something that is really important in writing, particularly as it helps a writer to find their own voice. Not everyone sounds the same, and that’s fine. We shouldn’t have to.
Doing these in a collaborative editing environment definitely helps with someone’s writing. They’re better able to spot some of the issues because they’re being made obvious, but it also means that we start seeing our own learning not as a purely individual project but as an act of collaboration. Even as someone’s writing and language skills improve, they’re also realising that we need to work with each other.