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Revision Presentation

Author: NYCWP



Tel: (718) 960-8758


250 Bedford Park Blvd. West

Fax: (718) 960-8054

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When students complete a first draft of writing they re often reluctant to make changes in their writing or revise it in an attempt to improve their piece. Even if they agree to “re-write,” more often than not the second draft shows only superficial changes; the quality of the piece remains essentially unchanged. This presentation will distinguish between revision and editing, demonstrate the kinds of choices (strategies0 writers have when they revise, and offer some techniques to help students understand and encourage them to revise their own work.

Procedure (these activities may be done over 3-4 class periods)

  1. Writing. Present a topic. Ask students to write for 10-15 minutes. Explain to them that they are creating a first draft and should not be overly concerned with grammar, spelling, etc. Topics should be general enough to allow students to write easily (“My First_____,” “Learning to_______,” etc.) . When time is up ask students to stop and to put that piece aside for now. Tell them that we will be returning to it soon.

  1. Revision and Editing. Explain to the students that they will be revising their pieces of writing. Ask students how revising is different from editing and elicit a definition for each.

  1. Examining Drafts.

    1. Distribute the first draft of a piece of writing to students. The draft could be student-written or a teacher may want to use his or her own writing to show to the class. See Appendix A for the student sample. After the piece is read, ask students what they liked best about the piece. If they could speak to the author of this piece what questions would they ask? What do they want to know more about? Do they have any suggestions to the author about improving this piece? List student questions and suggestions on the board.

  1. Explain to students that this writer shared his piece of writing with a writing group of other students. His group members made many of the same suggestions and asked many of the same questions that this class did. Let’s take a look at his second draft and see what kind of changes he made.

  1. Distribute and read the second draft. Get students to react to the second draft. Is it clearer? Is it more interesting? Do they like it better? All students will not agree on these questions. There may be parts of the first draft that they prefer to the revision. The point should be made here that authors can always go back to a previous draft and use all or parts of it if they are not happy with their revision.

  1. Explain to the students that they are going to be working in groups with one person acting as a recorder in each group. Ask the groups to examine the two drafts and discuss these questions:

    1. What changes did the author make in the second draft?
    2. What do you feel is the effect of these changes on the reader? Groups should meet for 10-15 minutes.

  1. Elicit from the recorders the types of changes noticed. Urge students to be more specific in describing the changes (e.g. “the author took the first sentence of the second paragraph and used it to begin the second draft”). A list of changes should be written on the board. Ask the class if they notice any way that these changes could be grouped together. What kinds of changes were made?

  1. Using Revision Strategies.

  1. Elicit from the class the four major kinds of revision strategies:

    1. Expansion: adding details, words, ideas, new sections, etc.
    2. Deletion: leaving out parts of a piece.
    3. Substitution: replacing word, sentences, paragraphs, etc. with other words, sentences, paragraphs.
    4. Re-arrangement: moving sentences, paragraphs, etc. to different parts of the piece.

(You might prefer to use the terms “adding,” “leaving out,” “replacing,” and “re-arranging” with the students.) Explain to the class that these are the kinds of changes (revision strategies) that they may choose from when they are working on improving a piece of writing.

  1. Ask students to look again at their own first draft. Ask them to re-read the piece and make jottings as they read about the types of changes they might want to make if they were going to revise this piece. They are not being asked to make the revisions (although some may want to make changes as they read) but rather to write about what they might want to try.

  1. Ask for volunteers to read their first drafts and the notes to themselves about possible revisions. Ask students to discuss the strategies and choices they hear the writers making. This is really a process discussion about revision, so active listening may be useful here.

  1. Summary. Discuss the following ideas with the class:

    1. Revision is the “re-seeing” of a piece of writing – a way of brining the writing closer to what the author wants to say, as well as making the piece clearer or more powerful to the reader.

  1. An author has a choice of tools to work with while revising: expansion, deletion, substitution and rearrangement.

  1. Conferencing with the teacher or with other students in writing groups can help an author choose revision strategies appropriate to a particular piece.


The following people contributed to this presentation: Elaine Avidon, Linette Moorman, Helen Ogden, Ed Osterman, Meta Plotnik, and Ellen Shatz.

Prepared by:

Christine Kissack

© 1984, The New York City Writing Project



Tel: (718) 960-8758


250 Bedford Park Blvd. West

Fax: (718) 960-8054

Bronx, NY 10468-1589


Appendix C

Questions Useful in Conferencing or Groups

  1. Questions which help writers focus:

What is the most important thing you are saying?

Why did you choose this topic? What’s important about it to you?

Which is the most important part of your story? Why?

Where do you get to your main idea?

Is there anything that doesn’t seem to fit?

Do you think you have two stories or one?

  1. Questions to help writers “show not tell”:

Read me the places where you think you describe it well.

Are there places you could describe more?

Have you tried to underline the places where you tell us something, like “he was ugly” and then rewrite those on another sheet of paper?

  1. Questions to help writers expand their pieces:

In your own words, tell me all about this. What else do you know about the topic?

What questions do you think people will have for you? If you answer them now, you get rid of some of the questions.

Could you go through your story, reading me a line, then telling me more about it?

Why don’t you try reading your story over and putting a dot on the page wherever there is more to ell.

  1. Questions which help a writer reconsider the sequence:

What did you tell first? Second? Third? (make a list) Is there any other way you could order this? Why did you decide to put it in this order?

Have you tried cutting it up and putting it into a different order?

Could you make this into a flashback?


Lucy Calkins, Lessons from a Child, Exeter, NH: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983.



Tel: (718) 960-8758


250 Bedford Park Blvd. West

Fax: (718) 960-8054

Bronx, NY 10468-1589


Suggestions for Discussions on Revision for Students

Revising one’s writing can be challenging, stimulating, and at times, tedious. It is essential that students be given opportunities to discuss how they revise and how they feel about revision. Through discussions about the revision process, students will begin to realize that they have options when they revise and that they are not alone in their struggle with an early draft.

It is not enough to introduce revision strategies early in the term and never discuss them again. Time must be provided throughout the term for discussions of revision.

  1. Students can be asked to write about their revising process. After students have finished revising a piece of writing, ask them to respond in writing to one or two of the following questions:

a) What changes did you make in writing your second (or third) draft? Explain why you made these changes.

b) How do you feel about the new version? Why are you satisfied (or still not satisfied) with it?

c) How smoothly did the revising go for you? What difficulties, if any, did you encounter? How did you deal with these difficulties?

d) What section of the story or essay gave you the greatest problem in revision? Why was that?

Students should be encouraged to read their responses aloud. Ideally, you want many students to read aloud so students can compare their experiences and, perhaps, offer each other suggestions for making revision less troublesome.

  1. When final papers are submitted, you might want to have students write about the finished paper and how they feel about it in its final form. The joy (and relief) of finishing a story or essay should be shared; in addition, some students may still feel the need for another version and that fact (that revision can go on forever) is worth noting.

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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