On a crisp fall day after lunch, my fifth-grade students began working diligently to revise their narratives about our class trip to the pumpkin patch. However, five minutes into our writer’s workshop, hands started going up with students who claimed they were either finished, needed to sharpen a pencil, get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom. This thing called “revision” had a strange effect on my class.
As I reviewed their writing, I suspected that they had what Nancy Sommers has described as a student view of revision rather than an experienced view of revision. They were correcting errors rather than envisioning new possibilities with their writing. They also were scared to “mess up” the first draft they worked so hard on and, as a result, were reluctant to revise. Many students also felt their writing was already great and needed no revision; they were not able to distance themselves and view the writing from an outsider’s perspective. This experience prompted me to find ways to teach about revision and make it more fun for my students.
Experienced Writers Can Inspire Revision
I highlight how important revision is by sharing famous authors’ quotes about revision along with their actual revisions. Revision is such an integral part of writing that Donald Murray argued writing is revising. Many professional writers agree that much of what they do when they write is revise. Sharing famous authors’ quotes or anecdotes about revising can help students see the value of it.
Fun Activities Can Inspire Revision Too
If given the proper scaffolding, young writers can develop revision skills and strategies and may even learn to love the art of revising (or at least tolerate it!). Here are some ways to make revision less daunting:
- Ask the author to choose photos, artwork, images, music, or other texts that connect to her piece. Then ask her to jot down words, phrases, ideas that are stimulated by the pictures and are not included in the original piece. Afterwards, the author can add or tweak the piece to include this new perspective.
- Re-envision revision as play. Invite authors to choose one aspect of their writing they wish to play with. They can always change it back if they don’t like how it comes out. For example, have writers print out their writing, cut it up into sentences, paragraphs, or sections, and play with organization. Ask them to play with point of view. Invite authors to change the point of view of their piece by doing a simple search and replacing pronouns and then rereading and tweaking. Writers can also play with figurative language. What happens when they add a simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, symbols? When students see revision as an opportunity to play and discover, they may learn they like doing it!
- Ask writers to create podcasts of themselves reading their own writing or a partner’s. As the author listens to the original piece read aloud, she may discover things to change, rewrite, add, or delete. This type of activity provides distance and voice for writers, which can be instrumental in helping them notice aspects of their writing that may be unclear, confusing, awkward, or incorrect. For more about using podcasts for proofreading, see this article.
- Finally, try acting out a piece or a segment of a piece. Writers could work in small groups, or with friends or family members, to act out a scene in the writer’s story. As the writer watches the scene performed, she can take notes about what she may want to add, clarify, or change in some way. This activity can work for narrative writing as well as procedural.
Revision is a time to gain perspective, experiment, tweak, reinvent, and play. Just as play is a medium through which children discover and learn, revision is a time for a writer to play and learn. By helping young writers see the importance and fun in revision, we may just quench their thirst enough that they are able to spend more time working on their writing and less time asking to go to the water fountain!