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by Nicole Lauzon, OCT, Educational Consultant, LDAO

Description of the Strategy

According to Spotlight on Language-Based Teaching (a free monthly e-resource offered by the Landmark School Outreach Program), an important component of the writing process, one that often challenges students with language-based learning disabilities, is proofreading. Proofreading is an element of editing, focused on the concrete skills of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure. Acronyms cue students to proofread and edit elements of their writing. “COPS” is an example of a proofreading acronym, which stands for:

C - Capitalization

O - Overall Appearance

P - Punctuation

S - Spelling

It should be noted that there are differing interpretations of the “O” in “COPS”, including these:

Oral reading (Spotlight on Language-Based Teaching):

  • Read your composition aloud or have someone else read it to you

Overall appearance (Take Ten Spotlight Series):

  • Is my handwriting spaced right and legible?
  • Is my paper neat? (Without smudges, not crumpled or ripped)
  • Have I indented and kept straight margins?
  • Have I used complete sentences?
  • If I’m unsure of something, have I asked someone for help?

Overall appearance (Teaching Students with Learning and Behavioural DifferencesA Resource Guide for Teachers):

  • Is my work neat and attractively presented?

It should also be noted that there are variations on the COPS acronym, including:

COPS – Creative/Content, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling

CUPS – Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, Spelling

C-SCOOP – Capitalization, Sentence Structure, Organization, Overall Format, Punctuation

STOPS – Sentence Structure, Tenses, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling

Additional examples of acronyms associated with writing include: POWER (plan, organize, write, edit, revise), for writing assignments and PENS (preview ideas, explore words, note words in a sentence, see if the sentence is okay), for sentence writing.

Each of the afore-mentioned strategies can be considered “good for all and necessary for some”, which means the strategies are good for all students and may be necessary for some students with LDs.

Research and Characteristics of Students with LDs

Dover et al. (1996) identified eight categories of observable difficulties encountered by students with learning disabilities:

  1. Reading and written comprehension;
  2. Writing and composition;
  3. (Verbal and non-verbal) language comprehension and oral expression;
  4. Mathematics;
  5. General knowledge;
  6. Attention;
  7. Memory; and
  8. Organization and time management.

No one student will present with all of these difficulties; however, a student may experience several of them to varying degrees. Each young person with a learning disability is a completely unique individual (Rousseau, 2006).

Of particular interest here are the difficulties with writing and composition that students encounter. Students with learning disabilities may have some of the following difficulties:

  • Difficulty forming the letters of the alphabet;
  • Inability to leave the appropriate space between words;
  • Difficulty writing in capital letters or block print;
  • Difficulty following the rules of punctuation;
  • Incorrect spelling of words and spelling agreement;
  • Transposing letters;
  • Transposing words;
  • Incorrect sentence structure;
  • Making grammatical mistakes;
  • Leaving words out; and
  • Difficulty with far-point copying (e.g. copying something that is written on the blackboard), on a transparency or in a textbook.

The greater a student’s awareness of his/her learning disability, the greater his/her ability to take action and take control over his/her learning. Educators should also be prepared to involve the student’s classmates in the strategies, along with editing tools already in use in the classroom, in order to support the student with LDs (Rousseau, 2004).

Implementing the Strategy

Key Considerations

  • Students must first understand that writing is part of the thinking-discussion-writing-reading process.
  • When a student re-reads a text, he/she focuses on content; however, many students want to publish their work right away, skipping this step. Implementation of this strategy requires several small-group work sessions.
  • Editing tools for self-revision are important for all students and essential for students with language-based learning disabilities.
  • Educators may guide students in Grades 1 to 12 toward autonomous learning by teaching the COPS strategy in a structured fashion, until the students are able to use it in a variety of situations without outside support. The objective is to teach students to generalize the COPS strategy from subject to subject and from grade to grade. As there are several variations on the COPS strategy, the educator should select the format appropriate for the age/grade level of the student and his/her respective needs.

There are numerous variations on implementing the COPS strategy, and to reiterate, this strategy should be considered “good for all students and necessary for some”.

After selecting a particular COPS editing format, ask the students to begin by proofreading their work and then asking for help. Students will highlight, circle or underline mistakes involving spelling, capital letters, punctuation, language use, etc. This can include asking the educator for help or consulting a dictionary, a thesaurus, a personal spelling dictionary or an electronic spellchecker. For primary and junior grades, educators can create a “publishing” table or centre complete with highlighters, liquid paper, a thesaurus, adhesive tape, scissors, and so forth.

Here is an example of a COPS strategy template:

Downloadable COPS handout

Click here to access a downloadable summary of the COPS strategy.

Here is an example of a text written by a student. He/she has already done some proofreading, using the COPS strategy, and underlining words that he/she may not have spelled correctly. The teacher has also proofread this text. (Alberta Education, 2001).

COPSOPOSLS The Snowy OwlThe snowee olw is black and white with yellow eyes.It only eat rodents and meet.Its enemies are polar bares flocks of sea swallows and little birds that look like it.

Additional Resources

The British Columbia Ministry of Education has developed a resource guide, entitled “Teaching Students with Learning and Behavioural Differences: A Resource Guide for Teachers”; the guide includes an appendix with information and a template on using COPS. Click here to access the COPS appendix.

"CUPS” is a variation on COPS, as suggested in “The Write Genre” (Rogs and Krups, 2004 as cited by Musselwhite, 2011); CUPS stands for “capitalization, usage & grammar, punctuation and spelling”. Click here to access information on using CUPS for editing.

LD OnLine is self-described as “the world’s leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD”; the website includes many helpful articles, including strategies for students with writing difficulties. Click here to access an article on strategies for the reluctant writer.


Pohlman, C. (2011). Aider l’élève en difficulté d’apprentissage: Guide pratique pour les parents et les enseignants. Montreal: Les Éditions Chenelière.

Rousseau, N. (2006). Pour une pédagogie de la sollicitude. Troubles d’apprentissage: sensibilisation et intervention. Quebec City: Septembre éditeur.

Rousseau, N. (2010). Troubles d’apprentissage et technologies d’aide. Quebec City: Septembre éditeur.

Spotlight on Language-Based Teaching. Retrieved July 2, 2014  http://www.landmarkoutreach.org/publications/spotlight/proofreading