Teaching writing is a difficult task for most of us, but teaching revision is even more challenging. I’ve been homeschooling for several years now, and teaching my kids how to revise their writing isn’t the cryfest it used to be.
What is Revision?
Revision is not editing. Let’s not confuse those two.
Editing is correcting spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and punctuation. That’s the boring part of writing that most of us detest and what made our papers in high school look like they had chickenpox. This isn’t what I am referring to in this article.
Revision is more than editing. It is the heart of writing.
When writers revise their work, they make it clearer, more expressive, and overall better. They are adjusting the organization and rethinking the argument. They are, in essence, re-visioning the work — literally reseeing it.
Which means it can be extremely painful to a child who has put in a lot of time and effort. Taking that beautiful essay or short story and making revisions to it can be tantamount to ripping their little hearts out.
So, the best way to teach revision is not in a painful exercise, but a fun one.
Teaching Revision in a Fun Way
Years ago, I sat in a webinar and listened to Julie Bogart of Brave Writer explain revision with a “wacky revision” tactic. The simplicity of the exercise surprised me. So, you can imagine how surprised I was to see how effective it was. The instructions went like this:
Step 1: Freewrite
Have the student do a freewrite. Freewriting can be about anything. My daughter chose to write about archery, a sport she loves. Here is her original freewrite.
I’ve been doing archery for a few years now. It’s a fun sport and can be stressful, but you get the hang of it eventually. Tournaments are probably the most stressful thing. My parents say that it’s not a fun sport to watch because you can’t see where the arrows are going, but it’s different when you’re the one shooting them. It’s extra fun and stressful for me because my dad’s the coach. We’re a homeschool team which can be weird, especially when going up against schools with big teams. My bow is red with a red finger pad, and I have black arrows with green and white fletchings. You can get any color bow, but the rules are that you can’t have a camo bow.
Step 2: Double-space
Write or type the freewrite double-spaced. Leaving room between the lines will help with the next step.
Step 3: Cut it up
Cut each line out of the story. Don’t worry if the sentence is cut in the middle. Simply cut out each line and set aside.
Step 4: Shuffle
Now that you have several strips of paper shuffle them up.
Step 5: New order
Take the strips of paper and line them up one after the other. Do not try to put them back in order. They should be completely out of order.
Step 6: Revise their writing
Take this “writing” and revise it into a coherent and interesting essay. It may be totally different from the original. This is my daughter’s revised essay:
The most stressful thing for my parents is when you’re the one shooting them. It’s extra fun and stressful for me because I’ve been doing archery for a few years now. It’s a fun sport because you can’t see where the arrows are going. You can have any color bow, but the rules are you can’t have a camo bow. I have red finger pads, and I have black arrows with green and white fletchings. You’ll get stressed, but you get it eventually. Tournaments are fun when going up against the big teams. My bow is red with my dad, the coach’s blood. We’re a homeschool team. It’s especially weird.
Does this activity work to teach any kid how to revise their writing?
At first, no.
As you can read above, my daughter had a lot of fun with this exercise. She giggled as she wrote it and then had a big laugh the day her dad found it on the table and wondered why his daughter was “writing about killing her parents.”
However, not every student in my creative writing class took to revising their writing so quickly. One of my students, a stickler for perfection, spent most of the class lamenting that his paper was perfect, and there was no way he could rewrite it. He tried to sneak and put it back in order and came close to refusing to participate. It took some time, but I was able to convince him to let go and try the activity.
His initial resistance was not unordinary. Most of the students were shocked and dismayed when we began cutting up their work. But eventually, I was able to show them that we weren’t editing their papers. We were writing a whole new piece, and this paper could be fantastical or realistic. It could be anything they wanted.
What is the point of this revision activity?
Our papers ended up being quite humorous, and the instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were actually just as good, even if they were backward.
But, the point of this exercise wasn’t to create a logical or serious non-fiction piece. It was to show the children “how” to do revision. It allowed them to make connections they wouldn’t normally see.
Once students learn the technique of revision, they can use it on any paper that they write. They can take the words on the paper, look at them objectively, and re-write them in a way that is more interesting and clearer for the reader. And, that makes them a better writer.
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…