Take Students’ Writing from Good to Great


Revision strategies have the power to take a student writing from good to great. Students are skilled at generating lots of ideas in the brainstorming stage of writing.  They are eager writers in the drafting stage. However, when it comes to revising—not just correcting a few typos or run-on sentences—they lack the desire to truly revise a poem or story.

Writing conferences must be brief and purposeful in order to be effective. Students need a specific strategy to return to the keyboard and improve their work.  Also, teachers need a few strategies that will work for a variety of situations.  The following strategies are easy to explain to young writers, and the payoff is an improved piece of writing.

Implementing revision strategies

To ensure an effective environment, give the class an assignment they can work on independently while you conference with each writer. Next, a student comes to my table for the writing conference and shares Google Doc with me.  I address different ideas; I put several large X’s at the beginning of the sentence that needs revising.  This acts as a marker for them to return to when they go back to their table.

The following revision strategies can prove helpful, depending on the type of writing. Start by asking the big questions that address the specific strategy.

Read text aloud

“Have you read this piece from start to finish?” Read through the text aloud. The student can read to the teacher or a fellow student. This allows the writer to hear choppy or redundant passages. Often students pause, look at me, and start elaborating.  Don’t tell me. Write it down! Fix all fragments, run-on sentences, and redundant passages.

Worthy verbs

The second question to ask the student, “Can you highlight the verbs in every sentence?”  Are they worthy? Do they help the reader visualize the story? Do they prove the point or describe how the action is done? Will the descriptive language move the reader? Word choice is a powerful tool.  Active voice captures the action Identify weak verbs and change.  For example, the man stomped out of the room is better than the man left the room.

The first four words

Another question to ask the student, “Have you analyzed your sentences? Highlight the first four words of each sentence. Select a different color than your verbs.” Create a chart where students record the number of words in each sentence. Encourage writers to strive for a variety of sentence beginnings, lengths, types. The next column in the chart requires them to jot down the first four words of each sentence. This exercise shows the redundant sentence patterns. know if they are starting many sentences in the same way. If so, encourage them to start with a prepositional phrase or dependent clause.


The “big idea”

The next question to ask, “Is the conclusion satisfying? What is the big idea of this writing?” Revenge, jealousy, love, sacrifice, etc? Make a statement about that big idea.  For example:

The tragic consequences of jealousy destroy memories of a better time.

Help students draft a theme statement that captures the essence of the writing.  Start with an abstract noun.  Add a powerful verb and complete the message. Another example:

Greed fuels passion.

Remind students to keep it short and to the point. As students construct these concluding themes, I have them write them on the board. At the end of class, it is impressive to read this powerful collection of theme statements.

Focused conversations during writing conferences that offer specific revision strategies will elevate the students’ writing.  Moreover, students look forward to the rich dialogue that the writing conferences offer them.  Practical strategies will enhance their future writing.

About the Author
Pamela Thomas teaches English and creative writing to seventh and eighth graders. During her twenty-eight year career, she has enjoyed watching technology evolve from computer labs to the current 1:1 model. While the methods of writing and publishing have evolved, she never loses sight of the ultimate goal of teaching students how to find their voice in order to express their ideas. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys quilting, reading, and walking her goldendoodle, Buddy.

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