Revising is a way to learn about the craft of writing. Phyllis Whitney famously wrote, "Good stories are not written. They are rewritten." Learning to revise teaches students about the characteristics of good writing, which will carry over into their future writing. Revision skills complement reading skills; revision requires that writers distance themselves from the writing and critically evaluate a text.
Why teach revising?
- It's an important part of the writing process.
- Revising gives students an opportunity to reflect on what they've written.
- Revising is a way to learn about the craft of writing.
- Revision is closely tied to critical reading; in order to revise a piece conceptually, students must be able to reflect on whether their message matches their writing goal.
|How to use:||Individually||With small groups||Whole class setting|
How to teach revising
- Explain the revising process explicitly: provide specific, meaningful goals for the revision and/or clearly identify the audience.
One way to make the criteria very specific is to focus on genre. For example, when teaching narratives, develop a simple checklist that aligns with good narrative writing. For example, ask students "Are all the story elements included? Are the characters clearly described? Does your story show how characters feel?"
Another approach focuses not on genre, but rather overall qualities such as clarity and detail. For example, "Is there anything that is difficult to understand?" "What vocabulary words could you add to make the story more interesting?"
- Model the strategy with think-alouds. This can be achieved by displaying one writing sample on a chart or ELMO, and using that sample to model and discuss how to revise the paper in a way that would improve it.
- Provide guided practice with feedback. This can be done through peer editing and through meaningful teacher–student dialogue. These collaborative efforts reinforce the understanding that writing is a social process in which a message is created for an audience.
- Gradually work toward independent mastery by students.
Peer editing is a very successful way to help students develop revision skills. This is particularly true when the peer groups have explicit goals for the revision. For example, find one place in the writing where the message is unclear, or one place where a different vocabulary word could be used.
Many teachers use checklists and mnemonic devices to help students revise their writing. Here are a few examples:
Although it's rarely considered this way, revisions include any changes a writer makes to a draft, including decisions made both before the writing begins and as drafting is taking place. Strategies that engage students before writing begins — for example RAFT and the story sequence strategy — can help students develop a strong first draft.
These steps for revision can be used across content areas. The types of writing that could take place include writing the steps to a word problem (math), reporting results from an experiment (science), and summarizing an important historical event or figure (social studies).
Children's books to use with this strategy
A boy wonders aloud about many things challenging readers to think about not only language and its uses and possible about specific content areas (e.g., the genesis of proverbs and adages, traditional lore, and entomology). Each statement of wonder could be a story prompt to use with RAFT.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Harold, the family dog, narrates the funny saga of a bunny suspected to be a vegetable-sucking vampire. Revisit a scene and tell it from the rabbit's point of view (or Chester the cat, from a human's perspective of that of another character).
Third grader Clementine writes an untruthful letter she hopes will prevent her much-loved teacher from leaving the classroom. Rewrite Clementine's letter from another, more truthful perspective; from another student's point of view; as though by Mr. D'Matz's mother.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School
Ike, a likeable mutt, is sent to obedience school from which he writes letters that don't match the actions depicted in the illustration. Rewrite Ike's letters but from a neutral point of view such as that of an unbiased reporter. Ike LaRue returns in LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation (Scholastic) among others, each of which involves writing from different points of view.
Have children complete the stories started by the dad in a way that differs from his interrupting child. Make the tales more serious, humorous, outrageous, or personal that the young rooster's version.
for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners
- Make judicious use of peer editors. Provide a supportive peer with whom your student can work constructively.
- Provide very clear goals for the revision process, for example give simple directions to add ideas to make their papers more interesting.
- Allow students to use word processors for writing. They can ease the physical process of writing, enable students to produce error-free final copies, and make revision possible without needing to recopy.
See the research that supports this strategy
Graham, S. & Harris K. (2007). Best practices in teaching planning. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Best practices in writing instruction. New York: Guilford.
MacArthur, C. (2007). Best practices in teaching evaluation and revision. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Best practices in writing instruction. New York: Guilford.