Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

A Way With Words

Copy Editing and the Writing Process

Margaret Salesky | Published: May 25th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 7th, 8th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course Composition, Creative Writing
  • Time Frame Time Frame 150 minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 class periods


In this lesson about the journalism writing process and the role of a copy editor, students will explore the importance of grammar and style. Students will work in groups to identify the key elements of a news story through a Card Sort. Then, students will work independently to practice editing a paragraph with copy editing marks. An interview with a copy editor then lends students an inside look at the skills involved in this career. Students will use the elements of a news story they previously identified to write their own news stories. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

What is the purpose of applying grammar and mechanics to writing? What does a copy editor do? How can editing written work improve its quality?



Students edit a paragraph with an eye toward punctuation, spelling, complete sentences, subject/verb agreement, etc., that mimics the work of an editor. Students reflect on this activity and discuss whether these are real-world skills.


Students learn that editing text is just one of the jobs of a copy editor. Students are introduced to the elements of a news story by participating in a card sort.


Students watch an interview with a copy editor and take notes on a graphic organizer. Students then construct their own news story about the interview according to the elements of a news story.


Each student acts as an editor and reviews the first draft of a partner's news story. Partners use an editing rubric to provide feedback for the writing.


Students reflect on the lesson and complete an Exit Ticket activity to answer two questions: What is one thing I learned about being a copy editor? What can I do to improve my writing going forward?


  • Editor's Paragraph handout (attached; one per student)

  • Interviewer Organizer and News Story Template (attached; one per student)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • News Story Editor Checklist (attached; one per student)

  • News Story Elements Card Sort (attached; one set per group of three students)

  • Sticky notes (one per student)


Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson. Begin by sharing slide 1 with students. Continue to slide 2, and discuss the Essential Questions of this lesson, then the lesson objectives on slide 3. Distribute a copy of the attached Editor's Paragraph handout to all students. Display slide 4. Ask students to work independently to edit or correct the paragraph like a copy editor does—by looking for errors in punctuation and spelling, incomplete sentences, issues with subject/verb agreement, and so on. Additionally, ask students to find one instance where the writing is awkward and improve it by rewriting.

Allow about 5 minutes to edit the paragraph. Then, display slide 5, which shows the correctly edited paragraph. Have students compare their own editing work with the slide. Ask students how their work is similar to, and different from, the edited paragraph.

Ask students to pair up (or assign partners) for the Think–Pair–Share strategy. Ask partners to discuss the two questions on slide 6: What did the paragraph tell you about the job of an editor? Do you need these skills for the real world?


Display slide 7. Discuss how editors plan, review, and revise content for publication. Discuss the various career possibilities of being an editor. Tell students that later in the lesson, they will act as editors for a news story. Continue to slide 8, showing the "inverted pyramid" writing structure. To understand the job of a news editor, students need to know the elements of a good news story. Explain to students that, because news readers want the facts of a story as quickly as possible, reporters put the most important information and facts in "the lead," or the story's opening paragraph. The lead answers these pressing questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? The next paragraph provides supporting information and additional details of the story. The third paragraph is also supporting information, but of lesser importance. The conclusion wraps up the story, summarizes findings, or includes details about future developments that may be still to come.

Move to slide 9, and explain the difference between writing a news story and other types of writing. For example, news stories do not offer opinions. They are fact-based, and written in short and clear statements. The lead contains most of the information, and the supporting paragraphs can include quotes, eyewitness statements, or other details.

Continue to slide 10, and pass out the prepared News Story Elements Card Sort sets. Place students into groups of three. Ask each group to match the news elements, such as "headline," "lead," etc. with the part of the story, according to the Card Sort learning strategy. Display slide eight, again to reinforce the order of the news story and as a reference for students. Allow 10 minutes for this activity. After groups are finished, have them check their card sorts with the suggested order on slide 11. If groups have a different order, ask them to explain their order and why it makes sense to them. If their rationale seems sound, accept other variations of the card sort order.


Pass out a copy of the attached Interview Organizer and News Story Template handout to each student. Display slide 12, and introduce the next activity by asking students to look at the notes organizer section of the handout on the first page. Ask students to write down notes in this section of the handout as they watch the interview. Once ready, move to slide 13, which features an interview with Darrin Walters, a senior copy editor at the University of Oklahoma. Additional links to the video can be found here and in the Resources section below.

After students have taken sufficient notes, display slide 14. Direct students' attention to the News Story Template on page two of the Interview Organizer and News Story Template handout. If you feel it would be beneficial for your class, you may wish to review how to write a news story (slide eight).

Ask students to use their notes to write a news story about Darrin Walters and the work of a copy editor. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for students to write their stories, making time adjustments as needed.


After students have completed a first draft of their news stories, assign students to new working partners. Ask partners to trade news stories with one another. Pass out a copy of the attached News Story Editor Checklist handout to each student. Display slide 15, and invite students to act as editors for each other. Allow 15–20 minutes for pairs to edit their news stories by writing their suggestions on the checklist, or on their partner's draft.

After partners share the checklist and offer suggestions for improvement, allow another 15–20 minutes for students to rewrite a final version of their news story.

If time allows, ask for a few volunteers to share their news stories with the class.


Have students turn in their final news stories. Then, pass out sticky notes. Ask students to write their names at the top of the sticky note. Invite students to complete the Exit Ticket shown on slide 16 by briefly answering the following questions: What is one thing I learned about being a copy editor? What can I do to improve my own writing going forward? You may choose to have students post their Exit Ticket sticky notes on one wall of your classroom. You may also choose a few sticky notes to read and share with the class to conclude the lesson.