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.