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From These Six Things (Stuart Jr., 2019), Skull and Crossbones List is an editing strategy for reinforcing clarity and ongoing expectations.
The purpose of this strategy is to clarify for students a baseline list of unacceptable errors in classroom writing. In other words, the Skull and Crossbones List sets the expectation for those items that should always be addressed when writing, whatever the current focus areas for the given task.
Using a baseline expectation helps clarify for students what areas of writing should be addressed regardless of the formality of the writing and maintains a reasonable level of writing that students in a given grade level should be expected to demonstrate. The list should therefore be grade-level appropriate based on previous writing instruction.
Additionally, while teachers should expect adherence to the list in all writing, the items on the list should still be taught, however briefly, and regularly modeled and reminded early in the school year. Teachers should not assume that all students are equally competent, even in baseline expectations.
Be sure to post the list visibly in the classroom, and remind students of the list for all major writing tasks at a minimum. Consider this example of a Skull and Crossbones List for secondary classrooms (for elementary, see below):
For an editable version of an elementary example, click here to copy in Google Docs
For an editable version of a secondary example, click here to copy in Google Docs
For printable PDF versions, view below.
Skull and Crossbones List ELEMENTARY EXAMPLE