Processing Words…

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to proffer a technique to teach young students to type up papers. My method is an alternative to the standard in which students open up a massive word processor. From there, they have all the bells and whistles to clang and blow that are built into the program with which to screw up their document before they even type their name.

Basically, unless there is some dedicated, direct instruction with constant scrutiny, the space for error is great. And even with all the that monitoring that is so easy to pull off in a room of 30 kids, all the ever-present and easy to access features are going to get accidentally clicked on anyway.

So the method I propose is a way of operating similar to that of web development: content and formatting are separate.

To begin typing a formal document, I would open up a basic text editor. Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Mac would be fine. Be sure the settings are for plain text, not rich text (not sure about Windows, but on Macs, you do have to go in and change the default preferences). We have no interest in fonts, alignments, spacing, or anything else. The point is to get the information clearly written.

Student could go ahead and put in a little header on the first couple of lines:

First A. Lastname





Lorem ipsum…

Note, everything is just sitting on the left margin. Not a big deal. Information is key.

So the extent of the paper is done. The student has their document.txt file sitting in their folder, nicely saved and ready for the next step. This next step also teaches some basic computer operations that are absolutely essential to know: switching between programs and copy/paste functions.

This also becomes a chance to teach clicking and dragging and highlighting goodness. If they are advanced enough, I would toss in keyboard shortcuts. In this case, we start off easy: highlight all your text, then go to the Edit menu and select Copy.

Now the students, with their plain text files staring at them, will go down and start up the full-featured word processor. Once a blank document is ready, paste in the text. Save your newly minted document to be the same name as previous, our new document.docx (if that’s your format).

Students can see the original text file and the full document file right next to each other in the folder, very good for organizational purposes, plus it is a built-in backup. Also, if your students blow up their formatting, there’s original plain text to try again with.

From in this new document, students can work on highlighting specific sections to change justification, font size, type, spacing, etc, as well as checking grammar and usage. The point is that all these things happen last in the process so the actual document gets written in the first place.

It’s just a wonderful bonus that file management, computer usage, and basic editing techniques are also included in such a lesson. I’m going to propose this to some of the English teachers I work with and get their opinions.

Any pros/cons out there that could raise or ruin this idea?

PS, I would also just mention here that I firmly believe that a first draft should be written by hand. Then typing it up becomes a clear editing stage when typing it up. But if not doing that, clean plain text is the way to go after that.