One of the most common questions I hear from teachers is “How do you get students to revise their writing?”
At first, this question stumped me. I didn’t have a special plan or strategy to encourage kids to revise. I just made it part of my writing process.
Each day, I taught a mini lesson and told my students to practice the skill we just learned during their independent writing. And, luckily, they did it.
I never made a big deal about the fact that we were revising. I just had my students apply each mini lesson to their own masterpieces. And, over the course of a few weeks, they revised their work.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did have a secret that made kids not just willing, but eager, to revise their work.
And today I’m going to share that secret with you. Are you ready?
Start Writing Right Away
I let them start writing right away. Yup, that’s it. It’s that simple.
Rather than making my students wait until I taught them everything there is to know about opinion writing (as if that’s even possible), I’d teach them one little thing and then send them off to write.
This means that their first draft isn’t going to be perfect. They won’t know all the things they are supposed to know to craft persuasive essays. But that’s okay. Perfection isn’t the goal of the first draft. Or even of the final copy.
But because the students have had the opportunity to write about something that matters to them, they are invested in the writing process. They want to make their work better. And by teaching specific mini lessons, it’s easy for them to practice new skills. They are more likely to take their time revising and editing to make their work better.
Writing Is a Process
A long time ago, I saw the quote, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Jodi Picoult). I’d substitute the word revise for edit because they aren’t the same thing (more on that later), but that quote has always resonated with me.
I decided to incorporate it into my teaching. I taught my student that the most important thing during the drafting stage is simply getting your ideas on paper. You don’t have to worry about spelling and grammar or even details, descriptions, or word choice. There is time to add all of these things later on.
The students write the first draft quickly, usually in just a couple of days. Then they move on to revising. And, after that, editing.
Revising and Editing
When I first started teaching, I didn’t understand the difference between revising and editing. I didn’t know why they were two separate steps in the writing process. But now I know these steps are very different.
Revising is everything we do to make the writing sound better. It happens immediately after drafting and makes the project more interesting to read.
- Adding details and dialogue
- Developing characters
- Making the lead more interesting
- Adding examples to support your reasons.
Revising is the MOST important part of the writing process. It’s where you add all the features that engage readers and make them keep reading.
Revising takes a long time. Often 4 or 5 weeks. But most of the time, students don’t even realize they are revising. They are simply applying the skills from the mini lesson to their own writing. Each time they add a new skill, their writing gets stronger.
Editing is what we do to make the writing look better. It happens after the story is nailed down and well-developed. In fact, it’s the last step in the writing process right before publishing. It includes things like:
- Correcting spelling
- Adding punctuation
- Checking grammar
- Capitalizing letters
It’s important to provide resources to kids to help them edit. Things like textbooks, dictionaries, word walls, and anchor charts can help. But don’t give kids all these things at once. Just pick one at a time.
It’s also a good idea to break up the editing process. If you tell kids to edit their writing, they usually look over it for about ten minutes (okay, two is probably more accurate) and then hand it in, saying everything looks good. In two seconds, you immediately see ten errors.
It can be overwhelming for kids to look for all the errors at once, so it’s helpful to break editing down into a multi-step process as well. On the first day, you might suggest they check punctuation. The next day they can look for spelling mistakes. And so on.
Make it Easy to Revise
Because students spend so much time revising and editing their work, there are bound to be lots of changes. Their manuscripts are going to get messy. This is a good thing. But it’s important to be prepared for it.
Students will need a place to write all their changes. And you definitely don’t want them to have to rewrite every time they revise. Instead, set kids up for success by showing them exactly how to set up their papers to make revisions easy.
I tell students to:
- Skip lines. This makes sure this is plenty of space to rewrite or add sentences. It’s a good idea to have them place an X on every other line so they remember not to write there.
- Leave 1/3 of the page empty on the right-hand side. This provides additional space for additions.
- Only write on the front. This provides enough space for big revisions, like adding entire paragraphs.
It’s also important to give students a simple strategy for adding text.
- Show them how to use carrots, arrows, and even numbers to show where the new text fits in.
- Use colored pens or pencils to help revisions stand out.
That’s all there is to it. I get my students to revise by making it super simple. I model one skill at a time and then give students a small revision task using that skill. Most of the time they don’t even realize they are revising. But their writing keeps getting better and better.
Work With Me
If you’re looking for more tips on teaching writing you might like How to Plan an Entire Year of Writing Lessons, How to Teach Writing When You Don’t Have Time, or 5 Things You Don’t Have to Do When Teaching Writing.
And, if you want more tips on how to make teaching writing easier, you’ll love my Not So Wimpy Writing Masterclass. I specifically developed this online professional development course for teachers in grades 2-5 to help simplify writing workshop and provide the tools and strategies you need to be a more confident writing teacher.
The Masterclass only opens for registration once per year. Sign up below so you don’t miss your opportunity to enroll the next time the course is available.
Have a Not So Wimpy Day!