Tips for Teaching Students to Revise Their Writing

Every single time I talk about teaching writing, someone will ask me, "How do you get your students to revise their writing?"
Well, I don't really give them a choice.
That's not too helpful!
Let me explain...
First, what is revising? When I first started teaching, I thought that revising and editing were synonyms. I didn't understand why they were two different steps in the writing process when they meant the same thing. #roughfirstyearteacher 
Revising and editing are not the same.
Revising:

  • things we do to make our story sound better
  • can take days or even weeks to completely revise a piece
  • includes things like making our lead stronger, adding examples to support our reasons, adding more descriptive words, etc.
Editing:
  • things we can do to make our story look better
  • can take a day or two to complete
  • includes things like fixing misspelled words, correcting punctuation, and capitalizing proper nouns
If you need some tips about helping students to edit, check out THIS post.

It's important to point out that the things we do during the revision stage account for about 80% of the points on a typical writing rubric. The things that we do during the editing stage account for 20% or less of the points on the rubric.
So revising is crazy important. 
It is so important that I would spend almost every daily writing mini lesson on a revision skill.

Provide Specific Revision Mini Lessons

When I first started teaching I would tell my kids that it was time to revise their work. I would say something like, "Now that your story is written, it is time to revise it. Think about adding more transitions, more interesting words, and extra details." Then I would give them 20 minutes to get it done. 

I was always disappointed. Most of my kids did nothing.

"I'm done," they would say after a couple minutes.

It took me a while to realize it, but I had failed them. I didn't teach them HOW to revise. I gave them a list and thought that was enough.

Now I spend the majority of all of my mini lessons teaching a skill needed for revision. I choose one skill per day and model it. Then I ask students to go back to their draft and make those specific revisions. We tackle another skill the next day. 

We are revising our writing for a few weeks.

The results are amazing! Students are learning how to make their work better, rather than just writing a million pieces that don't show any growth.

Click HERE if you would like to download my FREE guide that lists all of the writing mini lessons that I teach.


If you use my writing units, then you probably already know that I have students revising at least 80% of the time. Every mini lesson between drafting and editing is a revising lesson! It's a couple weeks of revising! 

Don't Make Them Rewrite Multiple Times

I often have teachers who ask me if they should have their students rewrite their masterpiece story every time that they make revisions.

NO!!!

Your students will hate revising, writing, and you if they have to recopy their work over and over.

Plus, it is a serious waste of time.

Yes, their draft is going to get messy. There will be arrows and asterisks all over the paper. There will be crossed out words and maybe even a paragraph that has a huge X across it.

This is normal.

Yes, this will be hard for some students at first. If you teach them how to organize these revisions, they will get better and better. It takes practice.

Even professional writers have messy drafts with notes and arrows all over them!

Teach Students How to Set Up Their Paper

Revisions take space. Before students start drafting, you are going to want to have them set up their paper to save room for the revisions they will be making later.

Here are a few things that I have my students do:

1. Have students skip lines. 

This will leave a little space for adding words, changing spelling, or other small revisions. It's hard for students to remember to skip lines. Before they start drafting, have them make an x on every other line of their paper. They shouldn't write on those lines during drafting.

2. Have students leave the right third of their paper blank. 

This will give them a bigger space for adding sentences or other larger revisions. You can have them draw a line to remind them where to stop or have them fold the paper.


3. Have students leave the back side of their paper blank. 

This will give them space for large revisions such as adding a new paragraph. If your students struggle with remembering to skip the back of the paper, have them draw an arrow across the top of the paper. Hopefully, when they see the arrow, they will remember to move to the next page.


Teach Students a Strategy for Adding Text to Their Work

During the revising stage, students will be adding a word or two here, a sentence there, and maybe even a paragraph right smack in the middle. They saved some open space for these revisions, but it is important to teach them how to use this space.

I suggest teaching students to use carrots, arrows, and even asterisks to show where the extra text will go in their final draft.

Yes, this will get a bit messy. That's okay. 


Provide Colored Pens or Pencils

Some students may benefit from having a special color pen or pencil that they only use for revising. It makes it easier to see the added text when it is a different color than the writing in the draft.


Use Technology AFTER Drafts are Complete

Lots of classrooms are now 1:1 with technology. Even more classrooms have some form of technology available for students to type their work. Some states have even made it a standard for students to type their writing.

Resist the urge to have students start typing too soon!

Always have students start by drafting on paper. They will be far more creative if they are not worrying about typing, the misspelled words that are underlined, and formatting.

After the story is drafted, it's a great idea to have students type their work. It will be much easier to do revisions if they can just click to the spot in the story where they want to add a new paragraph.

Obviously, this is not a solution for all teachers. You would need to have enough technology for every student to be able to access their writing every day. In some classes, typing may not happen until it is time to publish.


Teachers often ask me, "How do you get your kids to revise their work." The answer is simple, I teach them HOW to revise their work one step at a time. I intentionally teach and model each skill and then give my students a very small revision task to do during their independent writing time. 

Many of my students probably didn't even realize that they were revising their work for several weeks!