Monday, November 23, 2020

5 Ways to Get Your Students to Revise Their Writing


I know, I've been there.  You're writing with your kids. You've taught them how to do  the story mountain. You've taught them how to do the timeline and mark the heart of the story.  You've taught them how to write a beautiful beginning, and a thought provoking ending. You put editing and revising on the lesson plans on the same day.

They think they're done.

But they are not.

What about the writing that's in the middle?

I know I'm guilty of telling my kids to "add more," which is nearly impossible because the story has ended, concluded, c'est finis. We don't really want them adding on at the end, do we?

We are just getting started.

I teach 5th grade.  By 5th grade, students know the structure of a story. I don't spend the majority of my lessons on the structure; I spend my time teaching them what goes inside.

I make a due date for the story and tell them that they are next going to prove to me that their writing is a reflection of the things I am teaching them in 5th grade. 

Each time I teach a lesson, they are to go back into their writing and add the new text in a specific color.

 So, here are 5 ways to get your kids to revise their writing and make it better on the inside.

We take a day to have a lesson on how verbs propel our writing forward. I have them help me to revise some basic sentences with stronger verbs. In class, this could be with sticky notes on chart paper, where kids bring a note up to put on the chart.  This could be via a Jamboard for digital learning.

Here is an example we did in class via a PowerPoint

I give them a copy of a strong verbs list and ask them to add at least 3 to their writing and to color code these verbs red. They can do this digitally quite easily, or they can use colored pencils if they are writing with good old fashioned pencil and paper.

Differentiation:  You can change the quantity of new, strong verbs required.  You can highlight the verbs you want them to change.

This one is my favorite to teach, and I usually take at least a couple of days to really get into it.

Another way to get them to add to their writing is to really stretch out an emotion or two.  Knowing I teach this lesson, I usually ask them to write two strong emotions that a character(s) will have in their story on their planning sheet for this part.

To teach the lesson, I first get them to stand near their desks and get their voices, bodies, and faces ready to act.  See this post about getting into character.  We practice with a few big emotions,  During each one, I call out actions/sounds that I see and hear them do.

  • famished
  • angry
  • excited
  • sleepy

I write on chart paper, what I'm seeing and hearing for each emotion.  And I break it down into three focal points:

  • what is the face doing
  • what is the body doing
  • what does the voice sound like
Some years I have more students on the spectrum who find this lesson difficult. So I've gone into the Spongebob archives and I project some of his strong emotions.  After all, he is a sponge.  So, I ask the kids how the illustrator is showing us that Spongebob is angry/ sad/ hungry/ embarrassed, etc. 

If you're looking for a quick way to assign kids practice this with emotions, check out my Show, Not Tell Emotions Resource.

When we are done with the lesson and it is clear they understand that I am looking for 3 sentences to show an emotion, I send them off to add this to their stories and to color code show-not-tell emotions in orange.

The next revision is adding adverbs.

I give my students an adverbs list (on green paper if I can).  I ask them to put a star next to 3 words they know. We share out. Then I ask them to underline 3 words they don't know.  This part is fun.  I ask each student to tell me a word he/ she does not know and we write a synonym of the new word next to it. Now they have a plethora of words to choose from.  And we know how kids this age gobble up big words if it makes them look fancy.

After the lesson, I tell students they are to add 3 new adverbs in green.

This lesson may take a week or so, because I usually have to teach them how to punctuate dialogue. There are so many great resources, both in print and digital, to get them to practice the skill (which is so difficult to master).
When I feel they have learned it, I ask them to add 3 pieces of dialogue to their stories and color them blue.  
WATCH OUT! My experience is that some kids will suddenly see this as a green light to make their stories into something that looks like a play--all speaking and no action.  In this step, it is critical to peruse their drafts and watch for it. I've noticed a strong correlation (though not causation) between kids who love graphic novels and kids who do this.

Last, in the rainbow of revisions, I teach them how to add internal thoughts.  I usually pull out a few books from our class library and show them that many, many books have this.  One of my favorites to pull out for this lesson is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  Peter is always thinking things to himself, and his thoughts are in italics, as they should be.

Sometimes I cheat and make a couple of copies of pages with internal dialogue from books and have the kids highlight the thoughts they see, in groups.  And we share out to make it more of a discovery lesson. The more they are aware that this is a purposeful tool of writing, and not just a typesetting mistake, the more likely they are to use it.

Once the kids have grasped internal thoughts, I send them back to their papers and ask them to 3 internal thoughts and color code them purple.

I have a nifty little checklist that I add to the top of their stories when I assign them on Google Docs. Or they glue it in their journals.  You could also create labels. They don't know what they are at first, but by the end of all of the lessons, they have seen this rainbow of revisions enough, that they understand this is the proof that what they've written isn't just from ideas from the previous grade.

If you'd like your own pic of the checklist from click the image or click here.

There you have it, 5 purposeful ways for your students to add to their writing, without just adding nonsense at the end to make it longer.

If you have any other ideas to share, feel free to drop them below.  There are so many others we add in other genres of our writing.