Despite what many of our students believe, writing is not all about that end product, the one we take in and grade. “Good Copies” are often whipped up the night before they are due, and passed in full of errors and lacking thought. Sometimes, though, this is the result of our own practice. Rushed to complete our checklist of must-do’s, we don’t always devote enough time to the writing process and teaching students the habit of revision.
However, if we want our students to be better writers who are critical thinkers and life-long learners, we can’t ignore that all important process. We need to teach it to them, show them the benefits of a thoughtful look at their work, and build in time for them to revise.
I can guarantee, it’s time very well spent.
But how do we find the time to build the habit of revision when there are so many other things we need to complete? I’ve got some classroom-tested strategies that you can use to easily slip it into your daily plans.
1. Build the writing process into daily activities
There are multiple ways we can make the writing and revising process part of the daily routine. Let’s look at prompts and bell ringers, for example. We use these techniques to settle kids at the first of class and to get them to think critically and/or creatively.
Once these activities are finished, ask kids to re-read what they have written, and look for one or two ways they could improve their response. You might ask them to strengthen weak verbs, add transitions or more detail. The key is to ask them to complete one or two tasks that they can do relatively quickly, so the process doesn’t take too long.
For example, after I ask students to reflect on point of view in their independent novels, I have them take a moment to re-read their response and then add more detail. On days when I’m tight for time, I ask them to just highlight areas that need revision.
Regardless of whether they actually make the changes, or just look for places that need them, they are building the habit of giving their work a once-over, and looking for areas that could be stronger. You can get some of these activities ready made in my Writing Prompts for Independent Reading, and Writing Prompts for Building Stamina and Skill. (both resources can be used in class and online)
2. Model your own thinking & writing process
Early in my career, I did a lot of assuming. I believed that my twelfth grade students came to me having been taught the skills they needed to be successful in my class. However, after a lot of trial and error and research, I’ve come to know that no matter how skilled students are, they need to be shown what to do. I need to practice what I preach about showing, not telling, and model my own process.
Once I started doing that, I saw huge gains in my students.
Now, when I want them to close read and annotate, I project a short passage on my screen, and model the thinking process I go through as I read it critically. I show them my annotations as I work through the text. This works really well with poetry especially, because students see that I don’t automatically get it on the first read. It’s a process that takes time and effort, even for me.
This can be a very effective lesson when you want your students to revise their writing. Again, project a draft of something you have written, and show them what you would do to make it even stronger. This emphasizes the process and can give them ideas for ways to improve their own writing.
3. Make time spent on the writing and revising process a priority
If the writing and revision process is important, then we have to show students that. Build it into your daily activities as I suggested above, but also provide students with time to do the process for longer assignments while they are in class. It would be lovely if our teenagers would all go home and spend hours pre-writing, revising and editing, but we all know that’s a bit of a pipe dream for most of them. When we build the process into our lessons and activities, then they are much more likely to do it. However, even more importantly, they will see that process is something we value.
Writing and reading workshop allows for a lot of time spent on process, but even if you don’t use that approach, you can still emphasize revision. For example, when we do our first essay, we take it one step at a time so they can see that writing is a thinking process, and not just a hand-writing exercise.
Before students even begin a first draft, we spend a lot of time on the pre-writing stage. One of my most successful activities focuses on how to write an effective outline. It’s interactive,gets students moving, and helps them really see how outlining works. You can get the lesson plan here.
After students create an outline, I give them time to work on the draft in class. It’s a persuasive research essay, but I don’t want any research in the draft – that’s because I teach them that the research is to support their points, so the draft should be all about what they want to say.
Then, on the day the first draft is due, we devote a big chunk of time in class to revision. Our first revision focuses on the basics only – we make sure their essays are focused and organized with fully developed ideas.I hand out highlighters and pencil crayons and book marks that guide students as they revise (Get the editable bookmark here).
After this, I give my mini-lessons on how to effectively add research into their essays – and time to work on it in class. When that is done, when they have their content in place, we turn our attention to word choice and sentence fluency and students will take a closer look at their word choice and sentence variety.
Just before the good copy is due, we do a final revision using my stations. At each one, students can focus on one element at a time, and give their essays one final look before they do the final copy. You can do this as a peer feedback process as well (and online as both options are available in the resource!)
If you haven’t figured it out already, I am a huge believer in the power of process. When we make it a priority and allow students time to build the habit of focusing on the process, rather than just the end product, their work will improve. And, we are teaching them a life-long skill that they can take with them when they leave our classrooms.
If you’d like the outline lesson plan and the revision bookmarks, click here and I’ll send them to you.