Author: laurarobb

The Writing Teacher – Revision Strategies

Revision is hard to teach.  I asked Laura to share some tips on how to teach great revision strategies.

“I don’t know what to revise or how to revise.”  Too many students feel this way when teachers ask them to revise their writing for content and word choice.  It is important for students to revise their own work and then have a peer writing partner offer revision suggestions. The big question is, How can teachers help students revise their work?

What follows are seven tips that move revision out of your hands and into your students’ hands.

Tip 1. Have students use the rubric or content criteria you negotiated and their writing plans to check their first drafts.

Tip 2. Model this checking process using the first draft of a student no longer at your school. Think out loud to show students how you compare the rubric and writing plan to the first draft. Then, make a list of areas that require revision. For example:

Shorten the title

Need to add dialogue and punctuate

Make nouns like things and stuff specific

Sentence openings in 2 paragraphs all the same–need to vary them.

Tip 3. Have students make a list of what they need to revise.

Tip 4.  Model revision strategies.

To revise one or a few sentences or add sentences place a number next to the sentence that needs elaborating. On separate paper, have the student write the same number and complete the revision.

To generate specific nouns have students write in the margin a list of 2 to 3 possibilities, reread the sentence inserting each new and select the choice that works.

To vary sentence openings, students can combine two related sentences, open some sentences with a prepositional phrase or open with one of these words (called subordinating conjunctions): when, since, until, because, if, as soon as, although, unless, whenever.

Tip 5. Have the student invite his/her writing partner to make revision suggestions. Partners use a plan, rubric or criteria, and the first draft to create a feedback list.

Tip 6. Invite students to review all feedback, decide what they’ll include in their revisions, then write their revisions following suggestions in Tip 4.

Tip: 7: Ask students to compose a second draft that includes their revisions.


Now, teachers read improved second drafts and students learn how to use their plans and the rubric or criteria to figure out what to revise.  Of course, there will be errors not addressed in the rubric or criteria. Make a list of errors as you read second drafts. These become topics for future mini-lessons and student conferences.

Feedback on Second Drafts

Use students’ revision lists and rewrites to offer feedback. Look at the process from finding topics, brainstorming, negotiating a rubric or criteria, writing plan, first draft, revisions, and second draft. On a sticky-note, list a few things the student improved and/or did well using the rubric/criteria as your guide for responding. Then, take a few minutes to reflect on priorities–what you’d like the student to ponder and improve. Choose one or two needs and put these in the form of questions. Questions should be kind and encourage students to reflect. If necessary, let students have another shot at revising using your questions.

The point is to offer students a strategy, opportunity, and choice for improving their writing. When students feel confident doing the work of revision, you are teaching for independence!

Follow Laura @LRobbPrincipal

Check out this great book! Read Talk Write

The Writing Teacher – Student Partnerships

I asked Laura to share her thoughts on how an English teacher can create a culture of feedback by supporting student partnership.

Reading and grading papers is a fact of the teaching life. However, writing teachers seem to spend more time on students’ work because they provide students with lengthy revision suggestions and correct most of the students’ incorrect use of conventions.  Frustrations over workload and time spent grading quickly set in, but these feelings go underground when you organize writing partnerships in your classes.

Students can select writing partners or you can assign them. However, offering students choice motivates them to work hard and support each other through the process. Since partnerships can change after completing a writing unit, students will be able to pair-up with several classmates during the year. In addition, if a partner is working diligently on a draft, encourage students to seek assistance from someone who has completed that part of the process.

Writing partnerships benefit teachers and students, and the suggestions that follow provide tips that help you place the responsibility for writing plans, drafting, revising, and editing on students.

Supporting Student Partnerships. Collaborate with students and motivate them to write, and at the same time, you’ll boost their engagement in the entire process.

  • Create the rubric with student input so that they invest in the process.
  • Negotiate with students the amount of time they need for each of the following parts of the process: designing a rubric with you; brainstorming and planning; composing the first draft; revising for content and style; and editing for conventions.
  • Circulate among students when they brainstorm, plan, and the draft so you can discuss questions and roadblocks with them and offer suggestions that move them forward.
  • Read and offer feedback on second drafts, for these have been greatly improved by students.
  • Use the rubric to make positive comments on a sticky note and ask one to two questions that push students back into the revision and/or editing process.

Releasing Responsibility to Students Partnerships. Students learn how to evaluate a piece of writing by comparing it to a rubric. Have students write self and peer evaluations on notebook paper and file these in their writing folders.  Make sure students save all of their written work–from brainstormed ideas to second drafts–in a writing folder.

  • Have students discuss their topics before brainstorming. This ensures that they generate more detailed lists.
  • Ask students to use their rubric to evaluate the richness of details in their writing plan and add specific details when necessary.
  • Have students use the rubric to self-and-peer evaluate first drafts by measuring these against the negotiated rubric.
  • Help partners understand that first drafts require much work. Encourage them to revise for content first, then writing style, and finally for conventions.
  • Have students use their revisions and edits to compose the second draft.
  • Require that students turn in all of their work with the second draft on top.

The Payoffs

  Teachers find it easier to grade and offer feedback on improved second drafts. Moreover, student partnerships free-up teachers with the time they need to support individuals who struggle with a task.  

Partnerships foster independence in writing among students. When they experience how comparing a draft to the rubric provides them with suggestions for improving their piece, they can choose and use feedback to revise and rewrite their writing.

The Writing Teacher- Effective Leads

This blog grew out of discussions Laura and I had on teaching students how to write effective leads.  As we like to do, we are sharing ideas you can try immediately in your class or school.

What makes students want to continue reading? One key element is the lead or introduction because it can create a desire to read more. The first few sentences of book or story should grab the reader’s attention and make him or her wonder.

When you teach students how to open a story or essay, they start writing lackluster openings such as I’m going to tell you about whales or I’m going to write about my best friend. These leads are snoozers and typical of students who have not been taught what makes a lead engaging and motivates them to continue.

Leads That Work. Leads that activate the voice within readers that says, ”Keep reading!” have important jobs:

  1. The lead prepares readers for what’s to come in the text.
  2. The lead raises questions that can be answered if the learner reads more.

Students can use both elements to evaluate and improve their own leads.

Five Leads Worth Teaching.

1.Lead with a question that doesn’t have a “Yes’ or “No answer.

Example:  Why did Jack cancel today’s hike?

2.Lead with a dialogue that’s short and arouses curiosity.

Example:  “She’s running from the bakery, with a loaf of bread inside her jacket,” a man shouted.

“One more block and I can ditch into an alley,” the girl muttered.

3.Lead with a short anecdote or story that captures readers’ imagination.

Example:  She stared at her cat–her pet for nine years. How could she hold her beloved Angus while the Vet ended his life?

4.Lead with a fascinating fact that increases readers interest.

Example:  The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world, and their newborn giraffe babies are taller than human babies.

5.Lead by setting a tone or mood to draw readers into a text.

Example:  The house looked strange. Black paint covered the windows. Suddenly, the front door flung open, yet neither human nor animal stepped onto the rickety porch.

Create Mini-Lessons for Each Kind of Lead

One-at-a-time is the rule for introducing leads. The suggestions that follow can support your lessons.

  • Explain both jobs of a lead.
  • Name the lead you’re going to model.
  • Write an example for students to study and discuss or use an example from a book.
  • Think aloud and show how the lead introduces the piece and write the questions the lead raises on the board.
  • Organize students into pairs.
  • Invite partners to craft a sample lead and discuss the questions it raises.
  • Encourage students to share their leads with the class.

Now you can show students how to craft leads that draw readers into a text.

Remember, that first draft leads are usually not terrific. So, ask students to return to their openings and use what they’ve practiced as they work to improve their writing skills!
Learn more about leads, introductions, and writing from Laura Robb’s book, Teaching Middle School Writers Heinemann, 2010.

Put Revising in Students’ Hands

We all know how easy it is to put off reading students’ writing. Marking up papers is a joyless experience.  What happens is that teachers spend long hours slogging through a stack of papers and students learn little because they aren’t doing the revising work. The changeover to students doing the revision is easy. Try these five techniques that put revision into your students’ hands and show them how to improve the content of their writing. There’s one caveat—students need writing time during school at least four 45-minute classes.

  1. Make sure expectations are clear before students plan and draft. Let students know the content standards whether it’s a paragraph, essay, or short narrative. For an informative paragraph content standards might include a title, topic sentence that grabs readers, three to four elaborated details, a conclusion that keeps readers thinking. Standards for a memoir might include a title, one significant memory, tell the story truthfully in first person, use dialogue, show, don’t tell.
  2. Send old habits on their way—support first drafts, don’t read and grade them. Have students plan and draft their writing in class. Circulate and listen, observe, answer questions, and offer help. Point out what’s working, pair-up students who can support each other. Don’t carry a pencil to make sure the students do the work. Why? When students solve writing problems, they grow as writers and move to independence with revision.
  3. Teach techniques that make revision easy. Ask students to self-evaluate their first drafts by using the content standards. Then assign writing partners so pairs can use the content standards to make revision suggestions. On a separate paper, the writer and then the peer evaluator check the content against the standards and turn each standard into questions such as: Was the title short and catchy? Did the topic sentence make me want to read on? Did the writer offer interesting information? What did the wrap-up include that made me want to continue thinking about the topic? Students write responses to these questions on separate paper. Now student writers have ideas from themselves and peers for revision!
  4. Invite students to join the revision bandwagon. It’s the students who roll up their sleeves, dig in, and revise parts they feel will improve the writing. Students rewrite sections in need of revision on separate paper, then create a second, much improved draft.
  5. Teachers read second drafts. One of the many benefits of students doing the revising and creating a second draft is that you read writing that’s improved. Professional writers know that first drafts never cut it—let’s do the same for students and make your reading and grading life easier! Use the same techniques for developing standards for editing writing conventions.

You might want to check out Robb’s book on writing: Teaching Middle School Writers, Heinemann, 2010.