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elementary teacher helping student revise his writing


Revising is a way to learn about the craft of writing. Phyllis Whitney famously wrote, “Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.” Learning to revise teaches students about the characteristics of good writing, which will carry over into their future writing. Revision skills complement reading skills; revision requires that writers distance themselves from the writing and critically evaluate a text.

Key Information



Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

Why teach revising?

  • It’s an important part of the writing process.
  • Revising gives students an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve written.
  • Revising is a way to learn about the craft of writing.
  • Revision is closely tied to critical reading; in order to revise a piece conceptually, students must be able to reflect on whether their message matches their writing goal.

How to teach revising

Research on revision and the quality of writing shows that strategy instruction is very powerful. When using strategy instruction, teachers should do the following:

  1. Explain the revising process explicitly: provide specific, meaningful goals for the revision and/or clearly identify the audience. 

    One way to make the criteria very specific is to focus on genre. For example, when teaching narratives, develop a simple checklist that aligns with good narrative writing. For example, ask students “Are all the story elements included? Are the characters clearly described? Does your story show how characters feel?”

    Another approach focuses not on genre, but rather overall qualities such as clarity and detail. For example, “Is there anything that is difficult to understand?” “What vocabulary words could you add to make the story more interesting?”

  2. Model the strategy with think-alouds. This can be achieved by displaying one writing sample on a chart or ELMO, and using that sample to model and discuss how to revise the paper in a way that would improve it.
  3. Provide guided practice with feedback. This can be done through peer editing and through meaningful teacher–student dialogue. These collaborative efforts reinforce the understanding that writing is a social process in which a message is created for an audience.
  4. Gradually work toward independent mastery by students.

Peer editing is a very successful way to help students develop revision skills. This is particularly true when the peer groups have explicit goals for the revision. For example, find one place in the writing where the message is unclear, or one place where a different vocabulary word could be used.

Many teachers use checklists and mnemonic devices to help students revise their writing. Here are a few examples:

It’s important to help students focus on more than sentence-level revisions. The 6 + 1 Trait writing program encourages a bigger-picture revision process through attention to ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and more. Their revision checklist includes items such as:

  • The topic is narrow and manageable.
  • The details support the idea.
  • The order of details makes sense.
  • The writing has an interesting beginning and ending.

Although it’s rarely considered this way, revisions include any changes a writer makes to a draft, including decisions made both before the writing begins and as drafting is taking place. Strategies that engage students before writing begins — for example RAFT and the story sequence strategy — can help students develop a strong first draft.

These steps for revision can be used across content areas. The types of writing that could take place include writing the steps to a word problem (math), reporting results from an experiment (science), and summarizing an important historical event or figure (social studies).

Watch: Starring details

Help your students understand the various interacting stages of the writing process, including revising. In this video, students work on adding detail to their writing. (From the Balanced Literacy Diet: Putting Research into Practice in the Classroom)

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners

New writers and ELL students may initially have difficulty revising their work. Revising to them often means painstaking recopying, and revisions are often done only at the sentence level rather than to the piece as a whole.

  • Make judicious use of peer editors. Provide a supportive peer with whom your student can work constructively.
  • Provide very clear goals for the revision process, for example give simple directions to add ideas to make their papers more interesting.
  • Allow students to use word processors for writing. They can ease the physical process of writing, enable students to produce error-free final copies, and make revision possible without needing to recopy.

See the research that supports this strategy

Graham, S. & Harris K. (2007). Best practices in teaching planning. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Best practices in writing instruction. New York: Guilford.

MacArthur, C. (2007). Best practices in teaching evaluation and revision. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Best practices in writing instruction. New York: Guilford.

Children’s books to use with this strategy