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Try Express-Lane Editing… It Works!

By Lynne R. Dorfman

We can’t just hunt for errors; we need to celebrate what we are doing right.

– Jeff Anderson 

     After reading both of Jeff Anderson’s books, Everyday Editing and Mechanically Inclined, I started to think deeply about the concept of showing students what is right instead of asking them to correct what is wrong. Jeff focuses on correctness, asking students to look at mentor sentences and passages in the books they are reading including textbooks and independent reads. His “Express-Lane” editing system is inviting for students and provides a meaning-based process to help students proofread their writing and shape their own writing.  As Jeff cautions us, checklists aren’t always meaningful – students simply check off the items on the list.

     So how do you get students to engage in editing to reinforce the habit of becoming the first and last editor of their own work in order to communicate clearly and effectively?Jeff’s express-lane edit is a good place to start!  This weekly or even daily practice involves each student working hard to become an editor of his/her own writing. Students can use writer’s notebook entries, free-writes, drafts in progress, writing-to-learn journals, reading journals, literature response logs, science observations, and published pieces to help them practice self-editing.  Although this system is not intended as peer editing, teachers can encourage this practice in other ways.

        Fast-Lane editing also involves celebrating what students are able to do well.  Too many negatives always add up to nothing gained.  Anderson says it is that simple – and it is!  The focus of the fast-lane edit should revolve around whatever grammatical concept or punctuation study the teacher is highlighting that week.  The idea is for the students to recognize that they have used this concept or skill correctly in their own writing, and if they haven’t – here is their chance to self-correct.  If the skill hasn’t been used at all in the piece of writing the student is examining, then he/she simply needs to write a few more sentences to demonstrate the use of the skill. Application is the key ingredient, and transfer is the goal!


  1. Write in your notebook or create a draft.
  2. Decide on an item to check out.
  3. Write the item on the express-lane shopping list.
  4. Reread your writing, especially looking for the item (skill or strategy you are trying to use).
  5. Highlight any proper use of the skill or strategy.
  6. Correct any misuse of the skill.
  7. Fix anything that needs your editor’s eye.
  8. Circle something you are not sure about.
  9. Consult  another editor (teacher or peer) when appropriate.
  10. If the concept or skill to be checked out wasn’t used in the writing, add a sentence or two so you can practice using the learned skill.
  11. Write a receipt.  Students reflect on what they did and why..
  12. Continue to have a classroom discussion if students cannot talk about the “what” and the “why.”


Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne Dorfman is a Co-director of PAWLP and an adjunct professor for Arcadia University. She is a big fan of Jeff Anderson’s professional books and has had the pleasure of attending many of his presentations at local and national conferences. She also recommends his latest book, Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know.

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