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The Reading Coach

Strategies for Understanding
And Teaching Revision

Revision is the second most important part of writing (after the idea). Alexa Sandmann, professor at Kent State University defines revision as refining meaning. "Trimming, tightening, hacking away," Laura Backes, a newsletter publisher, calls it. Revision takes whittling and gluing, a process through which the treasure, the image within a plain piece of writing, is revealed. Revising denotes stepping back and looking at content. It means removing a perfectly good sentence because it doesn't belong, adding details or clarification, tightening our language. Those all are powerful, accurate images of what revision looks like.

Real Authors on Revision

Aliki tells us, "Sometimes it takes many weeks for me to find the right way to tell my story."

Stephen Krensky chuckles, then he says, "I always try to remember to fix the dumb parts later. It's OK to have dumb parts to start with. Everybody does."

Gregory McQuire calls revision "weeding, winnowing and word-whacking."

Jane Kurtz muses, "Even after I write a draft of a picture book, that's only the beginning. I read it over and over again to myself -- or out loud -- and listen to how the words sound. I think about how to pull the reader in, to make the reader feel what I've felt or see what I've seen."

How do we help students understand the importance of revision?

First, by modeling. Writing should have depth, clear and sharp meaning, a strong personal message or voice. Show students plenty of examples. Revising might include moving paragraphs or sentences to make the writing more organized and clearer to the reader. Don't accept shallow work, but don't grade every paper on every process; restrict that red pen. Let your initial comments to young writers be positive, touching on the best part of their composition. Then let them build on that. "This is excellent -- I can see the image of what's happening. Can you give more attention to that? I think it would make a fabulous story."

Secondly, teach them to distinguish revision from editing. Editing is simply correcting the punctuation, grammar, and capitalization (more about that next month). When we revise, we pose such questions as:

  • Do I have a strong ending?
  • Do I need more detail? Where?
  • Does my writing flow and stay on topic?
  • Are there connectors for my reader from one paragraph to another?

There are thousands more. Create an evolving classroom list of revising questions with student input and post it for quick reference.

The wisdom of William Strunk, Jr, co-author of the famous book The Elements of Style, rings true: "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines." Revision is the time writers devote to polishing their precious stone.

Read More

Print Resources:
* Calkins, L., Hartman, A., and White, Z., One to One: The Art of Conferring with Young Writers, Heinemann (2005)
* Graves, D., A Fresh Look at Writing, Heinemann (1994)
* Murray, D., The Craft of Revision, Heinle and Heinle (2000)

On-Line Resources:
* Lehr, F., Revision in the Writing Process – from the Reading Rockets Website
* ABC’s of the Writing Process: Revision --from instructors at the Edmonton Public Schools in Edmonton, Alberta

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.

Article by Cathy Puett Miller
Education World
Copyright 2008 Education World





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