Picture this: Tommy is hard at work on his latest expository piece; all about whales. Tommy has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this piece. He knows it's incredible. It's full of facts and, best of all, all the words are spelled right. Clearly, top-notch writing.
Before Tommy hands in his paper, you say, "Tommy, did you revise this piece?"
Uh-oh! Close one! thinks Tommy. He races back to his desk, furrows his brow, and quickly erases the word, "big." In place of the word "big," he writes "gigantic." Phwew! Glad to be done with that chore of revision! Then he races back to the turn-in basket, slaps his paper on top of the stack of reports on hamsters and elephants, and heads back to his desk, accomplished.
If you're like me, this makes your heart hurt a little. We ask for revision, but our little guys have no idea what we're talking about.
Revision? You mean spelling?
You know it's true. How often does the first draft of Tommy's piece look exactly like his final draft?
Like...almost every time!
But we made a rubric! We wrote it together! I modeled! I conferred! I cajoled!
To no avail. Kids are still clueless when it comes to revising. Some people are probably excellent at making rubrics work, but for me and my kids, they serve the same purpose as a Carson-Dellosa apple hanging on the wall: decoration.
This. Must. End. We must teach better revision! And here's how, in five steps:
1. Use a rubric to create thought-provoking questions.
Kids look at rubrics and go, "Yes, yes, I did all of that. I obviously earned a four." But they don't always have any actual reason for that. After having several writing conferences with children who are clearly experts in their field of writing, I'm ready to tear my hair out. Or cry. Or have a nice big glass of wine.
Instead of using a rubric full of criteria or statements, devolve that rubric into organized questions that get kids thinking. Stay focused on the criteria for the rubric and then ask yourself questions that writers ask!
For example, to help kids think about organization, ask...
* What organizational structure did the writer use?
* Are the ideas easy to follow or does the reader get lost?
* Can you find some meaningful transitions that connect ideas and help the writing flow?
These questions require students to hunt back in the text and find evidence, and that's the difference between thoughtful revision and just looking at a rubric.
This is the Revision Guide I put together for my students this year. Grab it for free on Google Drive!
2. Collaborate by using the questions to analyze a strong piece of writing
Don't start with the worst piece ever. That's overwhelming. We want kids to know "What should it look like," before they learn what it shouldn't look like, or else they have nothing to compare it to. Let's start with the end in mind! You'll still have plenty to talk about.
There should still be some advice you could give the "writer" (even if they're not in the room) about what they should do on their next piece.
3. Guide students through analyzing a piece of writing on their own
Give everyone the same piece. Ask a question and have students hunt for evidence to respond to the question. Then give them time to talk in teams - that's the important piece. You're building a community of writers with a common language for talking about writing! YESSS!
4. Have students analyze a partner's piece of writing
Revision circles are awesome! Everybody passes their writing to the left and the kids use the questions as a guide for providing feedback for the writer to use when they revise their writing. The writer can decide whether they want to use that feedback or not, but they have some thoughtful ideas to start with!
5. Have students analyze their own writing, every time they write a piece
If students are expected to revise a piece of writing, provide them with the questions so they can find spots for revision in their piece.
This takes a lot of time, yes, but it is time well spent! Kids who can talk about writing in an informed and thoughtful way become better writers! (That goes for adults, too!) So try it out!
Need some tools to get started?
Watch this handy dandy video! In it, I model how to guide and question students to help them revise their own expository pieces.
And check out my brand-new product: Expository Writing Revision Guides on TPT! It's full of tips, revision guides, and samples to make this work in your own classroom!