Encouraging Revision

Revision is one of my favorite parts of the writing process to teach.  I enjoy figuring out ways to encourage writers to make significant revisions.  It seems so often our students revise just to appease the teacher and the revisions don’t really matter to the writer and don’t really matter to the meaning of the piece.

To make this transition to significant revision, I revert back to my own revision process.  When writing narrative one of the things I do to write it well is to include character details (dialogue, action, emotions/thoughts, and description).  While working in a primary classroom, we noticed students weren’t using any dialogue in their stories. 

To encourage this craft move, I created a sheet of Call Out Bubbles.  Then I chopped them apart and put them in a basket in the Writing Center.  The minilesson for the day was about how writers often use dialogue in their stories to make their characters come alive.  (There are many ways to teach this — published text; your own writing; students’ writing.) 

I used my own draft.  I placed a transparency of a page from my story.  It simply told the story:  My marshmallow caught on fire.  Then I modeled how I could revise using the call out bubbles.  I wrote in the bubble:  “OH NOOOOOO!!!!” Then taped the bubble to my picture.  When I did this, one young writer said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” I smiled at him, “I hate burnt marshmallows!  I was really upset when it caught on fire.”

“I love them,” he said, “I didn’t know you would be upset at that part of the story.”

This led nicely into the teaching point of the conference — when we  add significant details to our writing, the reader has a clearer understanding of our story.  The call out bubbles are a concrete means to the abstract process of revision.  

A follow-up lesson would include looking at the picture (which now has the call out bubble) and then adding to the words of the story. 

As I type this post, I’m thinking about how this could be used with older writers who are not dependent on their pictures to write the story.  Here are a couple of ideas I’m thinking about (but haven’t ever tried in the classroom —  consider yourself warned!):

  1. When envisioning their narrative, have them write some dialogue they may include in their story on a handful of call out bubbles, then paste into their writer’s notebooks.
  2. When revising, write the dialogue on the call out bubble, then tape the bubble onto the draft where the dialogue should be added.  (There would have to be some teaching about quotation marks and speaker tags . . . I’m not sure if the call out bubbles would help or hinder this.  It may make it easier to understand that quotation marks go around the words spoken if the spoken words are in the speech bubble.  At the same time, it may make it more complicated than it needs to be.  I’ll have to make a plan to try it out . . . )

Now here’s the disclaimer:  If you use these in your classroom, be ready for call out bubbles to be everywhere!  There will be some significant dialogue added . . . but there will be much more that is simply added because just like everything else, when we learn a new way to lift the level of our writing, we want to use it all the time.  Plan to revisit this idea of significant revision with your young writers as you nudge them to control their revision.    Not to mention there will be a need to stick the bubbles to their pictures — they will need access to something sticky.  Plan on including this in your Writing Center if your students do not have access to glue or tape currently.

As always, if you try this or have another version of this idea, I would love to hear from  you in the comments.