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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Learning To Revise

How can you help your students understand the value of revision and use what they know to improve their own writing? In this workshop, you will discover why students in the middle grades can be reluctant to revise, help them better understand the purpose of revision, and teach revision strategies they can use.

Katie Wood RayA lot of times it’s hard to know what to do during revision because you don’t have a vision to start with.

— Katie Wood Ray, consultant and author or co-author of five books on teaching writing, including The Writing Workshop: Working through the Hard Parts (And They’re All Hard Parts)

Learning Goals

In this workshop you will explore how to:

  • show your students the value of revising writing pieces
  • help your students become reflective about their writing pieces
  • help your students acquire a repertoire of revision strategies they can use to achieve specific goals
  • encourage your students to develop their own approach to revising

Prepare for the Workshop

To prepare for this workshop, you will examine the strategies you already use and read two articles about revision.


What Do You Do?

In How Writers Work, Ralph Fletcher writes, “I think of revision as ‘story surgery,’ a time when I roll up my sleeves and make the dramatic changes necessary to make my words sing to the tune I want.” Even the most experienced writers revise their work and initiate the changes they want to make. For student writers, however, this self-direction may not come naturally. Instead, they make writing choices based on what they think the teacher wants.

Think of a recent writing assignment and your students’ attitudes toward revision. Then answer the following questions in your notebook:

  • Think of one or more students in your class who don’t seem to have ownership of the pieces they write. What factors might account for their feelings?
  • As teachers, we often think students dislike revision because they simply don’t want to make changes. How can a lack of ownership translate into a distaste for revision?
  • What are some ways you might help your students discover their own intentions with their writing?


Examine the Literature

Print out the Examine the Literature Response Chart (PDF). Then read each article listed below, recording your ideas on the chart during and after reading. When you have finished, save your chart to submit as an assignment.

Interior Design: Revision as Focus (PDF)
This article examines how one teacher provides time, directions, and structure to help her students develop effective revision habits.

Smede, Shelly D. “Interior Design: Revision as Focus.” English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English), 90, no. 1 (September 2000): 117-121. Copyright 2000 by the National Council of Teachers of English ( Used with permission.

The Writer’s Toolbox: Five Tools for Active Revision Instruction (PDF)
Barry Lane’s book After THE END: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision gives teachers classroom ready examples and lessons to teach revision concepts. In this article, a teacher shares a “writer’s toolbox” she developed based on the five revision “tools” discussed in Lane’s book: Questions, Snapshots, Thoughtshots, Exploding a Moment, and Making a Scene.

Harper, Laura. “The Writer’s Toolbox: Five Tools for Active Revision Instruction.” Language Arts (National Council of Teachers of English) 17 (March 1997): 193-200. Copyright 1997 by the National Council of Teachers of English ( Used with permission.

Analyze the Videos

Key Practices To Observe

“Learning To Revise” and “Modeling Revision” explore common issues in teaching revision to upper elementary students and specific strategies to help students revise their writing. They feature commentary from experts on teaching writing at the elementary level as well as classroom illustrations highlighting the practices of several teachers.

As you watch, look for the following key practices:

  • Teachers define revision broadly and model strategies for “re-seeing” ideas and writing throughout the composing process, not just at the end.
  • Students choose from this repertoire of revision strategies and learn when to use specific strategies for specific purposes and effects.
  • Teachers model a reflective approach to revision through mini-lessons and conferences and by questioning their own writing.
  • Students practice using reflection and questioning to help them revise.
  • By internalizing the reflective stance modeled in the classroom, students learn to revise based on the point of view of their potential audience.
  • Teachers help students take risks with their revision choices by nurturing a playful sensibility about writing.
  • Students are able to revise without feeling the anxiety of achieving correctness.
  • Students talk about and reflect on their use of revision strategies and have regular opportunities to share their revisions with peers.
  • Students realize that revision is often experimental and that writers are not bound to the changes they make.

Extend Your Learning

Examine Your Practice

Sometimes a simple strategy can help students to realize that they can change what they’ve written and be willing to revise a piece they feel is finished. Read the following quote, consider your own students, and then answer the questions that follow.

One of the things we have to do is to realize for ourselves that there are ways of revising while the piece is being written; that revision doesn’t just have to happen at the end. One of the ways that I get my kids to revise at the beginning is to write two or three different leads, two or three different beginnings. By just having them do that simple step, they begin to acknowledge that text is malleable and they can start to see the results of treating it as malleable, like writing a better beginning.

— Jack Wilde


Guiding Questions

  • How do you approach revising your own work? Do you make changes as you write or do you wait until you have finished a draft? What kinds of changes do you typically make?
  • How do you approach revision in your classroom? What specific strategies do you teach your students? Do you think these strategies encourage them to revise?
  • Based on what you’ve seen in “Learning To Revise” and your experience, what other strategies would you like to try with your students?

Try an Activity

Interactive.(Activity disabled due to Flash content.)

What Do Revision Choices Reveal?

This activity is designed to help you discover your students’ growth as writers by the revisions they make in their writing pieces. You will see two pieces of authentic student writing — a poem and a personal narrative — as they evolved through multiple drafts, and observe how the changes reflect the revision strategies the students learned and applied.

Put It Into Practice

The videos, activities, and readings in this workshop illustrate effective practices for helping students understand the purpose and benefit of revision. Now apply what you have learned to create a reviser’s toolbox.


Create a Reviser’s Toolbox

Create your own reviser’s toolbox using some of the ideas you learned in the workshop and in the videos, combined with practices you currently use. List each strategy in your toolbox and describe the following:

  • the purpose of each strategy
  • how you would teach the strategy to your students
  • how the strategy addresses your students’ needs
  • how the strategy helps students take ownership of their writing
  • how the strategy helps build students’ independence in their writing
  • how the strategy helps students identify the things they want to revise in their writing

After experimenting with the strategy in your classroom, describe what worked and what didn’t work, any changes you would make to the strategy or to teaching the strategy to your students, and whether or not you plan to use the strategy again.

Reflect on Your Learning


What Did You Learn?

Summarize what you have learned about teaching revision from the experts’ statements, classroom examples, and the readings and activities in this workshop. Use the questions below to guide your thinking. When you have finished, save your written summary to submit as an assignment.

  • Which classroom practices from the videos reflect what you currently do?
  • Which practices or ideas are new to you?
  • What changes do you plan to make?
  • What support and/or resources will you need to implement these ideas?

Related Resources

Web Resources

National Council of Teachers of English
NCTE provides research, teaching resources, and articles for teaching writing at all levels.

The A to Z of Alternative Words (PDF)
This site lists hundreds of plain English alternatives to pompous words and phrases that litter writing. provides teachers and students access to literature, references, and verse — free of charge.

This government site includes definitions and examples of plain language, before-and-after examples, and more.

Document Checklist for Plain Language
This link is a handy checklist to see if your writing meets plain language standards, i.e., is written for the average reader, is organized to serve the reader’s needs, uses active voice, etc.

Nine Easy Steps to Longer Sentences
This page is a tongue-in-cheek lesson on “how to get rid of short, direct, and simple sentences.”

Print Resources

Heard, Georgia. The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques That Work.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002. ISBN: 0325004609

The Revision Toolbox offers practical lessons, strategies, and conferring techniques, using the author’s writing and student samples as models.

Lane, Barry. After THE END: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN: 0435087142

This book provides playful and practical suggestions for effective revision.

Lane, Barry. The Reviser’s Toolbox. Shoreham, VT: Discover Writing Press, 1998. ISBN: 0965657442

This book offers lessons on how to teach revision concepts to students.

Wilde, Jack. A Door Opens: Writing in the Fifth Grade. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993. ISBN: 0435087614

A Door Opens examines the author’s teaching practices, including many examples of student writing in a variety of genres.


Literacy Experts

Katie Wood RayKatie Wood Ray, Ph.D.
Katie is a full-time writer and researcher on the teaching of writing. With a particular focus on the study of writing craft, she leads teacher workshops and summer institutes across the nation related to the teaching of writing. Her professional background includes both elementary and middle school teaching experience; eight years as an Associate Professor of language arts education at Western Carolina University; and two years as a staff developer at The Reading and Writing Project, Teachers College, Columbia University. Katie is also the author or co-author of numerous articles in professional publications and five books on the teaching of writing, including Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom(1999, NCTE) and The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They’re All Hard Parts) (2001, NCTE).

Charles WhitakerCharles Whitaker, Ph.D.
Charles is a retired professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University where he has been recognized as an EKU Foundation Professor. He has taught writing for more than 30 years, including graduate courses in composition studies, and has published articles and a textbook on teaching writing. For the past 20 years he has directed two National Writing Project sites in Kentucky. Charles worked closely with the Kentucky Department of Education to develop the state’s Program of Studies in English/Language Arts.

Jack WildeJack Wilde
Jack retired in 2005 after more than 35 years teaching first through fifth grade, most recently in Hanover, New Hampshire. He has two master’s degrees: a master’s of arts in liberal studies from Dartmouth College with a concentration in math and science, and a master’s in education from the University of Toronto. Jack has been a workshop presenter and college-level writing instructor at various institutions including the University of New Hampshire. He is author of A Door Opens: Writing in Fifth Grade.

Featured Teachers

Sheryl BlockSheryl Block
Fourth-Grade Teacher
Simpsonville Elementary, Simpsonville, Kentucky

Sheryl Block has been teaching for 26 years, the first 9 years in special education. Since 1990, Sheryl has provided professional development training in writing instruction in her own district and throughout Kentucky. She is a member of the Kentucky Department of Education Writing Advisory Committee and the Scoring Accuracy Team. She also serves as a writing cluster leader for the north-central region in Kentucky.

About the School:

Located in a rural, agricultural community, Simpsonville Elementary places a high priority on writing instruction — the principal received the Patronus Award, the highest honor given by the Louisville Writing Project (a National Writing Project affiliate). Although the students are primarily Caucasian, Simpsonville has a growing Hispanic population, higher than the state average.

Silvia EdgertonSilvia Edgerton
Fifth-Grade Teacher
Herrera School for the Fine Arts, Phoenix, Arizona

A 22-year teaching veteran, Silvia Edgerton has worked with students ranging in age from 6 to 14. She received her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. A second language learner herself, Silvia leads reading and writing workshops for parents of Herrera School students.

About the School:

Located in the urban core of Phoenix and among the poorest districts in the nation, Herrera is a fine arts magnet school with a comprehensive arts curriculum. Predominantly Hispanic (93 percent), 44 percent of the students are second language learners. The school has a two-way bilingual immersion program in which non-Spanish-speaking students are learning Spanish and native Spanish speakers are learning English.

Nicole OutsenNicole Outsen
Fifth-Grade Teacher
North Hampton School, North Hampton, New Hampshire

Nicole Outsen has been teaching at the elementary level since 1996. She began her teaching career in New York City, and has been teaching at North Hampton School since 2001. Nicole presents workshops on reading and writing for the University of New Hampshire Department of Continuing Education and is the author of Teaching Comprehension Strategies All Readers Need: Mini-Lessons That Introduce, Extend, and Deepen Reading Skills and Promote a Lifelong Love of Literature (Scholastic, 2002). She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College, Columbia University. She earned her master’s degree in Teacher Leadership from the University of New Hampshire.

About the School:

Located in a small town with a population under 5,000, North Hampton School serves 481 students in preschool through the eighth grade. The school received a Blue Ribbon Award from the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools. North Hampton emphasizes world languages, multiple assessment tools, individualization, and service learning. The majority of the students (97 percent) are Caucasian.