Helping Students Revise Their Writing

With the writing test only a little over a month away, we are really in the thick of things in our classroom. We have been working all year to make sure our writing is the best it can be, but still my students cling to their first drafts as if they are their most prized possession. 
If you work with students, or adults for that matter, on their writing you know that beginning writers think their first draft should be bronzed. Those first thoughts scribbled down on paper could not possibly be any better than how they were originally penned. The idea that they still need work is faint inducing, and is the worst punishment that a teacher could possibly dole out to their class. 
I am here to tell you my friends that this is a never ending struggle. By this point in the year you would think that I have said, "When you think you are done, the writing has just begun," at least a million times, but we are losing something in translation. 

With that in mind, here are a few tips for helping students to revise their writing without causing a mental breakdown on their part, or yours.  
Working with students to revise their writing is all about starting out small. What can they do that will improve their writing the most? I like to introduce each revising task with a little activity and then move onto their own writing. When students see that others also need to same things, they are more accepting of changing their own writing.

Let's get right down to it shall we?

Combining Sentences

Sentence variety adds spice to your writing. If you write in all simple sentences, your writing will seem short and choppy. No one wants to read short and choppy sentences outside of beginning reader, and even then they grow bored with it quickly. A quick activity that allows students to practice combining sentences is having them match up simple sentences then combine them with a partner. 
I dicut shapes (these just happen to be pumpkins, but you could do any shape) then cut them into halves.  On each half I write a related simple sentence, and pass out one half shape to each student.
Students then travel the room looking for a partner that has the other simple sentence related to their topic.
Once they have found each other, they work together to combine the two simple sentences. Once students have proved that they know how to combine sentences together I have them complete some station work like these Owl Compound Sentences.

Then students are ready to dive into their own writing to look for sentences that they can combine to provide sentence variety. I usually issue this task as a challenge of sorts. "I challenge you to find two sets of simple sentences that you can combine into compound sentences." This challenge gets students in the right frame of mind to seek out simple sentences, and many will do much more than two.

Show Not Tell

We are always telling our students to show me, don't tell me in their writing, but this is a skill that needs to be practiced often. There are many ways to practice showing with their writing, but this simple one is my favorite! 
On index cards I write incredibly boring, very simple telling sentences. I pass out a card to each student and have them write what that would look like, sound like, and feel like on the same side as the sentence.
When students have brainstormed a few items then they flip the cards over and write a showing paragraph. We also use this as a bit of a game and read the new showing paragraphs to the class. Then the class guesses what the original sentence was.

Then of course I challenge my students to find one sentence in their piece of writing that they can turn into a showing paragraph.

Removing Unnecessary Sentences

This one may be the toughest for students, but it is also potentially the most important. There is no room in writing for extraneous sentences. Every single one of them needs to count.
I usually model this by writing a story with lots of extra sentences. Then as we read the story we decide on what needs to stay and what needs to go. This is really easy for students to do with someone else's writing, but becomes infinitely harder in their own. This is why in the beginning I challenge them to remove just one sentence. Removing just one sentence can be the hardest challenge of them all.

Changing Overused Words

Especially when writing for a test prompt, I consider test writing a whole different genre, it is all too easy to use certain words from the prompt, or others, too many times. To combat this I have my students type their writing into a word cloud app. On the computer I use Wordle or ABCYa's Word Cloud for Kids which also has an app for the Ipad. 
The way a word cloud works is that the more often you use a word the bigger it becomes in the word cloud. I used the copy for one of my previous posts on Reading Conferences to create this word cloud. The graphic instantly shows me the words that I used most often, and while I may expect to see reading and conferences prominently displayed I should be able to find synonyms to replace some other commonly used words such as students, get, and something.

After creating their word clouds, I have students choose at least one word to replace in their writing. This does not mean one word once, but instead replace that one word every time you see it.

This activity can be quite time consuming if you don't ordinarily type your writing, but it is one that leaves a big impact on your writers.

I hope that at least one of these strategies will help you and your students to be successful writers this year. Be sure to check back in for more ideas on how to improve writing workshop in yourclassroom!

For more practice, and to keep students looking for more ways to revise their writing I love to use this Revising TicTacToe. It gives them options, and keeps them accountable!

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  1. These are some great ideas!
    Do you have any suggestions for teaching the use of transition words? My students understand they should he using them, but they tend to use them the wrong way.
    If anyone has suggestions, help! :)

    Thanks for the great tips to revising!

  2. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I'm at the revising point right now and can use all the inspiration I can get! I also use mentor sentences or a golden sentence from an example piece we've read. I write the mentor sentence on one side of a paper and leave room next to it for students. The goal is for students to use the structure of the sentence but make it their own. You just have to target the right sentences that will work for the type of writing you're targeting.


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