Revision Makes My Students Thirsty

by Noreen Moore

Photo of a word web. Highlighted words include, students, play, writers, writing, piece, and revision.On a crisp fall day after lunch, my fifth-grade students began working diligently to revise their narratives about our class trip to the pumpkin patch.  However, five minutes into our writer’s workshop, hands started going up with students who claimed they were either finished, needed to sharpen a pencil, get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom.  Needless to say, I was suspicious.  This thing called “revision” had a strange effect on my class.

As I reviewed their writing, I suspected that they had what Nancy Sommers has described as a student view of revision rather than an experienced view of revision.  They were correcting errors rather than envisioning new possibilities with their writing.  Clearly, my students didn’t understand the difference between editing and revising.  They also were scared to “mess up” the first draft they worked so hard on and as a result were reluctant to revise.  Many students also felt their writing was already great and needed no revision; they were not able to distance themselves and view the writing from an outsider’s perspective.  This experience prompted me to find ways to teach about revision and make it more fun for my students.  

Experienced Writers Can Inspire Revision

The first thing I do when I talk about revision is highlight how important revision is by sharing famous authors’ quotes about revision along with their actual revisions.  Revision provides a space or time during which writers can learn about the craft of writing and it can lead to higher quality texts (MacArthur, 2013).  In fact, revision is such an integral part of writing that writing expert, Donald Murray, argued that writing is revising.  Many professional writers who discuss their writing process also agree that much of what they do when they write is revise.  Some professional writers even feel that revising is an artform, a source of inspiration, and a process of discovery.  Sharing famous authors’ quotes or anecdotes about revising can help students see that the importance and value of engaging in it.

Fun Activities Can Inspire Revision Too

If given the proper scaffolding, young writers can develop revision skills and strategies and may even learn to embrace and love the art of revising (or at least tolerate it!).  Here are some ways to make revision less daunting and more fun:

  1. Ask the author to choose photos, artwork, images, music, or other texts that connect to his or her piece.  Then ask him/her to jot down words, phrases, ideas that are stimulated by the pictures and which are not included in the original piece.  Afterwards, the author can add or tweak the piece to include this new perspective.
  1.  Re-envision revision as play.  Invite authors to choose one aspect of their writing that they wish to “play” or tinker with.  They can always change it back if they don’t like how it comes out.   For example, have writers print out their writing, cut it up into  sentences, paragraphs, or sections and play with organization.  Ask them to play with point of view.  Invite authors to change the point of view of their piece by doing a simple search and replace for pronouns and then rereading and tweaking.  Writers can also play with figurative language.  What happens when they add a simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, symbols?  When students see revision as an opportunity to play and discover, they may learn that they actually like doing it!
  1. Spice up peer revision activities by doing something out of the ordinary:  set up an inquiry activity in which students switch communicative roles and in so doing learn about the importance of an audience.   In this activity, students become “readers” and “researchers” of writing.   Students in the reader role will think aloud as they read a piece of writing.  The piece could be a sample text or it could be another student’s text.   While the “readers” are thinking aloud, the students in the researcher role will observe what the readers say about the writing.  Students in the reader role should comment on aspects of the writing that are confusing, engaging, funny, sad, lacking detail, etc.  Students in the researcher role should listen and take notes about what the readers says about the writing.  After engaging in this fish bowl inquiry activity, students can create a list of criteria that made the piece or pieces effective or not and use the criteria to revise their own writing.   This is also an effective activity for parent participation!  Young writers may enjoy hearing a parent read their work aloud.  
  1. For a twist on the first activity, ask writers to create podcasts of themselves reading their own writing or their partner’s writing.   As the author listens to the original piece read aloud, he or she may discover things to change, rewrite, add, or delete.   This type of activity provides distance and voice for the writer which can be instrumental in helping them notice aspects of their writing that may be unclear, confusing, awkward, or incorrect. For more information about using podcasts for proofreading purposes see this article in The Reading Teacher
  1. Finally, try acting out a piece or a segment of a piece.  Writers could work in small groups, or with friends or family members, to act out a scene in the writer’s story.  As the writer watches the scene performed, he or she can take notes about what she may want to add, clarify, or change in some way.  This activity can work for narrative writing as well as procedural texts in which students are asked to write the steps in a process.   

Revision is a time to gain perspective, experiment, tweak, tinker, reinvent and play.  Just as play is a medium through which children discover and learn, revision is a time for a writer to play and learn.  By helping young writers see the importance, necessity, and fun in revision, we may just quench their thirst enough that they are able to spend more time working on their writing and less time asking to go to the water fountain!

Noreen Moore has taught writing in middle school, high school, and college and was a Teacher Consultant with the Delaware Writing Project.   After earning her PhD in Literacy at the University of Delaware, she decided to pursue a career in academe. She is now an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.  


7 thoughts on “Revision Makes My Students Thirsty

  1. Hi Dr. Moore,
    Ironically my class is currently experiencing a “brain cramp” during our personal narrative revision process. I have a lot of students who are either “finished” or just plain stumped. I will be trying activities 1 and 4, and will definitely be sharing this blog with my fifth-grade colleagues, as they are also having the same challenges. Thanks!

    • Cristina,
      Thanks for the feedback! If you decide to try these out, I would love to hear how it goes. I hope your colleagues find them useful as well.

  2. Pingback: Revision inspiration | Collective Wisdom

  3. Pingback: Revision Makes My Students Thirsty - Literacy & NCTE

  4. Pingback: It’s a Draft, not an Illuminated Manuscript: Making Revision Less Scary for Students | teach study learn

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