Teaching Students to Revise

Experienced writers know that revision is an essential component of the writing process: It provides us with a way to tinker with ideas, to smooth out sentences, and to hone our voices. I’m never satisfied with my first draft because I see composition as a constant process of becoming — becoming better, “getting smarter,” evolving in some way. I have this mindset, though, because I am experienced writer; revision is something that I learned to do over time.

It’s not surprising then that students need to be taught how to revise: They need to know what revision looks like and they need to be held accountable for making meaningful revisions by applying teacher feedback.

Here are a few activities and resources that I’ve used this year:

  • Show examples: Show students a sample revision (Revision Examples).
  • Demonstrate revision: Take samples of student work and demonstrate how you’d revise it. Then, give students a sample of writing to revise themselves.
  • Train students to look for strengths and weaknesses in writing. This resource can be used as a resource for students as they write, or to facilitate the peer review process: Editing Checklist for Research Assignment.
  • Provide class time for peer review and evaluate students on the feedback that they give to their peers (scale on page two of checklist). To prep for this, I usually give a concept attainment lesson on “Effective vs. Ineffective Feedback” in which I post a series of examples and non-examples of effective feedback and ask students to come up with a list of characteristics of effective feedback.
  • Create scales to evaluate revision.
  • Collect data to see what your students think about all this. (The graph pictured here is a sample of data from one of my classrooms).

Not all students like revision, of course. The writing process can be frustrating and it can be difficult to hear the words “you can do better” — particularly when students feel that they’ve already invested a good amount of time in a particular assignment.

I collected data on student attitudes about revision, however, and found that students (once they actually get into it), enjoy revising and see it as beneficial to their growth. Last semester, students were most likely to indicate that “teacher feedback” and “revising my work” were two activities that helped them the most.

I’m looking for ways to improve the way that I implement revision activities in my classrooms. What do you do in your classroom? What have you done that has worked?

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