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Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers

Teaching the Power of Revision

In this session, participants visit the classrooms of three teachers to examine strategies that help even reluctant writers see the power and purpose of revision.

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Workshop 8 Overview

Workshop 8 takes viewers into the classrooms of three language arts teachers—Velvet McReynolds, Mary Cathryn Ricker, and Jack Wilde—as their students tackle the ongoing task of revision.

To Velvet McReynolds, revision is at the heart of the writing process—it’s “where the magic happens.” Using a student exemplar, class discussion, handouts, and individual and small-group work, Velvet prompts her seventh-graders to focus on revising personal narratives they wrote earlier in the year. The two-day session culminates with a celebration circle where students share “before” and “after” versions of their papers.

Mary Cathryn Ricker’s seventh-grade students are beginning work on an autobiographical multigenre project. On the second day of the unit, Mary Cathryn presents a mini-lesson on the Barry Lane revision technique of “exploding the moment.” After the students mine their writing notebooks for a piece of personal writing to revise, Mary Cathryn moves around the room helping them come up with details that will expand and improve their writing.

Jack Wilde also is teaching a mini-lesson, this one on leads for persuasive essays. Using models drawn from other students’ papers, Jack helps his class generate a list of effective ways to begin their papers. Then, after the students have drafted openings for their essays, they confer with one another and with Jack about possible revisions.

Throughout the workshop, we hear reflections on revision from both teachers and students, as well as discussions among the teachers about dealing with student resistance to revision, planning mini-lessons, and other issues related to the revision process.

Key Practices To Observe in Workshop 8

This workshop demonstrates a variety of teaching practices that help students develop skills in revising their writing.

  • Teachers affirm the importance of helping students with revision. The teachers’ goal, though, is not just to help students develop a particular piece of writing but to help students acquire skills and strategies that will enable them to grow as writers.
  • Creating a positive environment, a community of writers, is important in promoting revision. This includes an atmosphere of trust and respect, support and encouragement from the teacher and classmates, regular experience in helping others and being helped, comfortable surroundings, arrangement of furniture to facilitate discussion, and an opportunity to write and share writing without fear of undue criticism.
  • Because students write about matters that are important to them and draw on their own experiences, they are encouraged to revise and to revise effectively.
  • Teachers demonstrate that they expect students to revise (“to get them in the revision door”). They organize specific lessons and tasks to help students learn to revise and to recognize the power of revision. Revision is a routine part of the writing workshop.
  • Since revision often is difficult, teachers provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate (especially to peers) the benefits of revision. They also arrange for peers to help each other and to express support and approval of classmates’ accomplishments.
  • Teachers actively teach strategies for revision through a variety of practices: reading and talking about examples; modeling revision and having students model revision; structuring small-group conferences; providing mini-lessons on specific features of writing and on revision methods; talking with students one-on-one; raising questions to help students see options for revision and to help them think critically; displaying writing on the overhead; leading students in tasks that result in a sharing of before-and-after writing; helping students create and use revision forms and checklists for revision; and arranging for students to read their work aloud and to talk about revision with peers.
  • Lessons aimed at helping students revise are focused, and teachers are careful to be clear and specific in guiding students through revision tasks. Lessons often include samples of writing, which are displayed or provided in copies, open discussion of techniques, references to resources, practice in revision strategies, sharing, implementation of the lesson in the students’ own writing, and more sharing. Students often include examples of revisions and the results of revision tasks and exercises in their writer’s notebooks.
  • Teachers do not merely promote revision; they lead students to understand reasons for revision—why a revision is useful, how a revised piece of writing can ultimately influence readers.
  • Teachers draw on practices they have observed or have read about in professional literature, and they adjust the techniques to their own students. For example, one teacher uses Barry Lane’s “exploding the moment” strategy with her seventh-graders.
  • Teacher-student conferences are a major means of helping students revise their work and develop as writers. In these conferences, teachers are careful to promote student ownership and to guide students in making their own decisions.

Related Reading

For more information and resources, visit the NCTE Web site at:

Velvet McReynolds' Revision Lesson

Velvet McReynolds’ students share in a Celebration Circle.

Starting on the first day of school, Velvet McReynolds‘ seventh-graders assemble their quick writes and drafts in a writing portfolio. Over the course of the year, the students will select some of these pieces for revision and eventual publication. Velvet balances a workshop approach to writing instruction with the necessity of preparing the students for Alabama’s state assessment. So her instructional planning always includes lessons and mini-lessons that incorporate state writing standards.

By the second semester, the students’ portfolios include a minimum of two personal narratives—one written after Velvet reads Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge to the class and the second inspired by a scene from The Giver by Lois Lowry. To help the students move these pieces along—and to insure that they meet the standards for writing narratives set by the state—Velvet suggests that the students focus on one of these two personal narratives for their special revision session. However, in keeping with the goal of providing student choice, she also allows them to choose some other piece from their portfolio, including quick writes.

Revision Lesson (pdf)

Materials For Velvet McReynolds' Lesson on Revision

Velvet McReynolds' Reflections

On revision vs. editing
“A lot of adults in education don’t understand what happens at the revision stage because we are so married to the editing stage.”

On looking for evidence of revision
“The first thing I look for is writing on paper.”

Strategy for reluctant revisers
“I would actually use the strategies that I might use with non-readers or with second-language students… .”

Transcript of Velvet McReynolds’ Reflections.

Samples of Student Work

Editor’s note: The sample student papers have been reproduced exactly as the students wrote them, including mechanical and grammatical errors.

Mary Cathryn Ricker's Revision Lesson

Mary Cathryn Ricker observes a student “mining” for topics in her writer’s notebook.

Mary Cathryn Ricker knows her students understand the power of revision when they see the difference on paper before and after, especially after “exploding the moment” from one draft to the next. This revision strategy—developed by Barry Lane and featured in his book After THE END: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993, ISBN: 0435087142)—is a favorite of Mary Cathryn’s. She has found that it’s an effective technique for helping her students add detail to their writing.

Mary Cathryn also makes her writer’s notebook available to her students as well as drafts of her writing so they can see the many different ways writers revise. In the segment featured in Workshop 8, Mary Cathryn models “exploding the moment” in a piece she wrote about a surprise party and in a student example.

Mary Cathryn Ricker's Reflections

On approaches to revision:
“I try to promote revision on two different levels.”

On teaching reluctant revisers:
“When I find a student who is reluctant to revise because they think it’s already great, part of me wants to chuckle on the inside.”

On addressing mechanics in writing:
“As I read a piece of writing that I recognize as beautiful, as I recognize as a very strong piece of writing, I struggle with where the voice in that piece begins and the mechanics need to end.”

Transcript of Mary Cathryn Ricker’s reflections.

Jack Wilde's Revision Lesson

Jack Wilde and his students discuss effective introductions.

An important part of Jack Wilde‘s instruction on revision is helping his fifth-grade students identify what’s effective in others’ writing in order to apply it to their own work. Jack uses models written by other students, his class identifies elements of effective writing, and then they use the lists they generate to revise their own work.

Jack requires his students to make at least three changes to their drafts because he has found that once students have made one change to a piece, it becomes easier to make subsequent changes. The students record the number and types of revisions they’ve made—spider legs, carets, cut and tape, etc.—on a revision sheet (pdf).

During Workshop 8, we see Jack teach a mini-lesson on introductions. Mini-lessons are an integral part of the writing workshop in Jack’s classroom—they help his students understand important features of successful writing so they can improve their own pieces.

Materials for Jack Wilde's Lesson on Revision

Jack Wilde's Reflections

On introducing students to revision:
“I think that probably one of the biggest ways in which writers can grow and that they change in middle school is to start to understand the power of revision.”

Importance of publication in revision:
“Obviously, another driving force in revision is your connection to the piece.”

On teaching editing in context of students’ writing:
“Editing is certainly another critical aspect of the whole writing process.”

Transcript of Jack Wilde’s reflections.

Samples of Student Work

Editor’s note: The sample student papers have been reproduced exactly as the students wrote them, including mechanical and grammatical errors.

Additional Resources

Brannon, Lil, Melinda Knight, and Vera Neverow-Turk. Writers Writing. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1983. ISBN: 0867090456.

Calkins, Lucy. “Children’s Rewriting Strategies.” Research in the Teaching of English 14 (1980): 207-213.

Conner, Angela, with Margaret Moulton. “Motivating Middle School Students To Revise and Edit.” English Journal 90.1 (2000): 72-79.

Cunningham, Patricia. “A Middle School Teacher’s Guide to Revising and Editing.” Clearing House 61.5 (1988): 202-204.

Elbow, Peter and Pat Belanoff, eds. A Community of Writers: A Workshop Course in Writing. New York: Random House, 1989. ISBN: 007303181X.

Fletcher, Ralph and JoAnn Portalupi. Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. ISBN: 0325003629.

Flowers, Linda. “Revising Writer-Based Prose.” Journal of Basic Writing
3 (Fall/Winter 1983): 62-74.

Freedman, Sarah W., ed. The Acquisition of Written Language: Revision and Response. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1985. ISBN: 0893913243.

Gillet, Jean Wallace and Lynn Beverly. Directing the Writing Workshop: An Elementary Teacher’s Handbook. New York: The Guilford Press, 2001. ISBN: 1572306556.

Graves, Donald. A Fresh Look at Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.
ISBN: 0435088246.

Graves, Donald. “What Children Show Us About Revision.” Language Arts
56 (March 1979): 312-319.

Harper, Laura. “The Writer’s Toolbox: Five Tools for Active Revision Instruction.” Language Arts 74.3 (March 1997): 193-200.

Johnstone, Velerie. “Writing Back: Revising and Editing.” English Journal 79.5 (September 1990): 57-59.

Kirby, Dan, Tom Liner, and Ruth Vinz. Inside Out: Developmental Strategies for Teaching Writing. 2nd Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1988. ISBN: 0867092254.

Lane, Barry. After THE END: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993. ISBN: 0435087142.

Lane, Barry. The Reviser’s Toolbox. Shoreham, VT: Discover Writing Press, 1999. ISBN: 0965657442.

Lindgren, Eva and Sullivan, Kirk P.H. “The LS Graph: A Methodology for Visualizing Writing Revision.” Language Learning (September 2002): 565.

Matsuoka, Jan. “Revising Revision: How My Students Transformed Writer’s Workshop.” In Breakthroughs: Classroom Discoveries About Teaching, edited by Amy Bauman and Art Peterson, 293-300. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project, 2002. ISBN: 1883920183.

Murphy, Pamela. “Discovering the Ending in the Beginning.” Language Arts 80.6 (July 2003): 461-469.

Murray, Donald. “Teaching the Motivating Force of Revision.” English Journal 67 (Oct. 1978): 56-58.

Murray, Donald. The Craft of Revision. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1991. ISBN: 0838407153.

Newkirk, Thomas. “Barriers to Revision.” Journal of Basic Writing 3 (Fall/Winter 1983): 50-61.

Parsons, Les. Revising & Editing: Using Models and Checklists To Promote Successful Writing Experiences. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2001. ISBN: 1551381303.

Romano, Tom. Clearing the Way: Working With Teenage Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987. ISBN: 0435084399.

Smede, Shelly. “Interior Design: Revision as Focus.” English Journal 90.1 (September 2000): 117-121.

Tchudi, Susan, Heidi Estrem, and Patti-Anne Hanlon. “Unsettling Drafts: Helping Students See New Possibilities in Their Writing.” English Journal 86.6 (October 1997): 27-33.

Tully, Marianne. Helping Students Revise Their Writing. Jefferson City, MO: Scholastic, 1999. ISBN: 059086565X.

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

Willis, Meredith. Deep Revision: A Guide for Teachers, Students, and Other Writers. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1993. ISBN: 0915924412.

Zemelman, Steve and Harvey Daniels. A Community of Writers: Teaching Writing in the Junior and Senior High School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1988. ISBN: 0435084631.