Revisiting Writing through Revision

Strategies to teach and motivate your students to revise their writing.

By Dawn Dodson

person with red pen in hand, editing a paper

Revise and edit, edit and revise—words that many young writers hear over the course of their academic writing career. At the beginning of the year, my sixth-grade writers attempt to combine revising and editing, and the process takes only about fifteen minutes at best. Teaching them the difference between revising and editing, as well as the process of revision takes time, patience, and practice. This much-needed skill takes time and energy to instill in young writers. As writers become engaged in exploring their own writing, and comparing it to other writing samples, they will begin to acquire these necessary skills. The act of revising written work will prove to be a useful writing tool that your learners can employ throughout their academic writing, and even beyond. The following are ideas and activities that help teach young writers the routine of revising.


Instructor Defines Revision

Revision is the one step in the writing process that can always be revisited—and that’s exactly how I explain it to my students. Revision is revisiting one's work, which includes rough drafts, final copies, and even the great beginning to a story they never had a chance to finish. It’s the opportunity to improve the message, make a specific scene more suspenseful, and to sharpen the images of the setting that were so carefully designed. More specifically, it is not checking spelling, punctuation, and other mechanical aspects of writing. Those are editing skills, which should be addressed in a separate strategy. Revising is not the same as editing. 

Collaborative Revision Plan

The plan outlined here is an almost methodical way of training writers to become better revisers. It begins with a chart, which includes the following five traits:

  1. Ideas
  2. Organization
  3. Sentence Fluency
  4. Word Choice
  5. Voice

Each category has a blank column in which writers fill in questions that allow them to evaluate each trait in their own writing. For example, an 'idea' question might be, “Is my idea focused and logical?” We create these questions based on examples of student writing. The class is divided into small groups of three, and each group is given two examples of writing. For each trait, I choose written work that demonstrates a well-revised piece, and another piece of written work that is still in progress. Each group is given time to read the examples and are asked to focus on only one trait. Next, they think of at least three questions they would ask the author to consider. The groups share their questions, and as a whole class, we choose the guiding questions we want to add to our revision chart. This activity is repeated for each of the five traits in order to define what we are looking for as we revise our work.

Independent Revision Strategies

Once the traits and guiding questions have been defined, it is time to arm writers with strategies they can rely on to revise their work independently. Each person will need a few different colors of highlighters and a pen. Some of my favorite revision strategies are listed here:

  • Highlighting the first word of each sentence helps writers to vary their wording. When it’s highlighted, it’s easier to focus on how each sentence begins.
  • Counting the words in each sentence is a strategy that can be used to check and revise the structure of each sentence in a piece of writing. I advise writers to only work with one paragraph at a time, and to read it aloud in order to test the fluency. This helps writers to vary the sentence length, and also learn to use shorter sentences for dramatic effect.
  • Highlighting the detail words often means taking a second look at adjectives, adverbs, and those sentences that are describing a specific noun or verb. Is there a better word to substitute that would sharpen the image being created? Is there an appropriate form of figurative language that could be added?
  • Reading for order and organization can include making a timeline of the writing. Students will want to ask themselves if their piece has a definable beginning, middle, and end, as well as whether or not it flows from one idea to another. I also like to pass out a list of transition words and phrases for this strategy.

Pair-Up for Peer Revision

Sometimes another pair of eyes can be very helpful with revision. After writing and rereading your own work a few times, having someone else take a look at it can be refreshing. During writing workshop, my writers are asked to share their work with at least one other peer. This helps to insure that the author's intended message is received and understood in the way the author had hoped. Likewise, constructive feedback can help smooth out language and flow that the author may have overlooked. Peer reviewers utilize the same guiding questions and strategies that are used in the independent revision.

Learning to revise is a process that takes practice. Defining the job of revising, as well as providing writers with useful strategies that will guide them through the process, will help build a solid foundation for lifelong writing skills. 

More Lessons to Aid with Revision:

Revising Rough Drafts

Writers learn how to use strategies for revising. In the process, they revise and improve previously written work.

Choose Your Words Wisely

This resource targets revising word choice. Through using multiple resources, writers are given the knowledge and practice to employ this trait in their own work.

Transition Words and Phrases

This step-by-step lesson teaches pupils how to effectively use transitions in writing. A great introductory lesson into using transitions in writing, and can also serve as a review.