How to Celebrate Mistakes to Build a Stronger Writing Community

As teachers of writing, we all realize the power one word can have on an audience. This past school year, I discovered the power the word “favorite” had on shifting my students’ mindsets about writing. Instead of feeling discouraged when errors were identified in writing, we started celebrating our “favorite mistakes” as the biggest opportunities to learn and become better writers.

To establish mistakes as learning opportunities, here are four simple shifts teachers can make when giving feedback and returning student writing:

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Highlight Errors

After students have worked through the writing process, brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, peer conferencing, teacher conferencing, and handing in a final copy, work through student writing and give feedback through highlighting.  The highlighting strategy is the quickest and most meaningful method of giving feedback that will help students learn. Simply highlight grammatical errors in yellow and revisions in green for a portion of the writing.  I usually highlight the first few paragraphs.

When you return student writing, explain the highlighting, then have the students work independently to unpack the errors, attempting to correct and explain what went wrong.  

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Share Favorite Mistakes

After students have reflected and worked to identify their own errors, ask them to pair up and share their “favorite mistakes.”  Calling mistakes favorites takes the negative connotations away from writing errors, and instead, instills a growth mindset in your writers.  Students begin to see mistakes in writing as learning opportunities.  In partnerships, students get to see that all writers make mistakes--the key is to reflect and learn from them.  

Celebrate Mistakes as Opportunities

After students work to share their mistakes with partners, have a whole class discussion sharing  favorite mistakes as a class, discussing areas that have stumped students and, as a class, discovering solutions.  As a class, celebrate each mistake as a learning opportunity, discussing ways to fix the errors and make writing stronger.  Work as a community to learn, improve, and grow.

Cultivate Grammar Gurus

Study after study reveals that grammar is best taught in the context of student writing.  Once you have discussed favorite mistakes as a class, task students with working through their writing to record their mistakes, the grammar rules that apply, and the revised, corrected version on a Grammar Guru form (click for a free download!).  My students keep this form all school year, and with every piece of writing, students practice fixing recurring errors.  By the end of the school year, they not only have visible records of their growth, they have noticeably improved their grammar in a meaningful, authentic way.

Celebrating favorite mistakes will help your students to improve their own writing and build a community of supportive, collaborative, confident writers.

 Click here for your free Grammar Guru worksheet, PowerPoint lesson, and lesson plan download.

Click here for your free Grammar Guru worksheet, PowerPoint lesson, and lesson plan download.

About the Author

Emily is the founder of Read it. Write it. Learn it. where she designs secondary ELA curriculum and blogs about her teaching experiences.  She is also a collaborative blogger at TeachWriting.org.

Teaching ELA to 7th grade students for the past 15 years has been one of Emily's greatest adventures. Her goal is to design curriculum that engages and motivates students to love reading and writing.  As a teacher, there is no better feeling than seeing students' eyes light up when they discover their passion for reading and writing.

When she's not in the classroom or writing curriculum and blog posts, Emily enjoys spending time with her three kids, three cats, and teacher husband.