Sticky Notes, Arrows, and Margins, Oh My!

In early September I wrote about students’ tendency to overcommit to their first words. I shared some ideas on how to encourage students to be open to the adventures that revision can bring. What I began to find is many students were feeling open to revision, but they forgot to set themselves up as a revisor of their work. I needed to support the idea of revision, but I also needed to guide students to set up their pieces for the act of revision itself. This led to some chart making, many conversations, and good old-fashioned problem-solving.

Below I have shared five different strategies to teach students to prepare for revision while in the drafting process. Revising is hard enough, but when we don’t set up our work to be kneaded it just won’t rise.

Carets and Arrows

This may sound silly, but I absolutely love being the first person to point out the use of an arrow or caret to a young writer. Almost every time I am the first person to share this with a writer I find the student within the moment of a struggle figuring out where to put the new word or phrase. They might be sitting there telling me how a new word or idea came about and there just isn’t a place to put it. That’s when I pull out my writer’s notebook or a heavily revised draft of my own and show them, “This is something I’ve tried, do you think it could work for you?” This is also a perfect opportunity to allow another student who may have already experimented with arrows and carets to share with a peer as an expert.

Skipping Lines Saves Time

As students begin to write more on a page, they also tend to leave less room for word choice changes and line cross-outs to re-write. I find it takes some getting used to for students, but skipping a line through a draft can save a writer so much time when it comes to revising small parts and individual words.

Experimental Drafting

I always like walking my students through exercises that stretch their thinking when it comes to leads and conclusions. These two structural pieces to one’s writing work are the invitation and the goodbye embrace a reader gets to experience. Students really start to “get” their importance when they begin making connections within their own reading about these structural elements. We might try different varieties of leads or conclusions within our writer’s notebooks and then make decisions about our currently drafted beginnings and endings. Because my students use writing binders with loose leaf paper for all their drafts within a unit, reworking or re-drafting an introduction or conclusion is simple. We can just add a piece of paper to the placement within the draft and write in the new and improved paragraph or section.

Think, Cut, and Paste

This is often a favorite for students, however, can become a nightmare if the student goes into the cutting phase unprepared. This strategy really takes some intentional thinking and explicit modeling. I often use a story or narrative that is void of dialogue (of my own making) for students to cut apart and create the verbal interactions of the characters. The students determine the best place for a conversation, cut through the story, glue it onto some lined paper and in the newly developed blank space create the dialogue. After I model this and they practice on one of my pieces (something with little significance within their own body of work), they have sifted through some of the kinks that can arise when cutting into a story. “Oh, I didn’t mean to cut there.” This is a revision technique that can be revisited in our teaching models many times while sharing that this strategy is really saved for more drastic changes from the writer.

Enlargen Your Margins

Leaving some space on either side and even a few lines at the bottom can be helpful when it comes time to make some changes. It is an ideal spot to place a sticky note with word changes or entire sentence inserts that couldn’t fit in a skipped line. It is a nice area when we are experimenting with the spelling of a word (editing) or making a list of synonyms or ideas to save for later.

Each of these strategies can be items for minilessons, small groups, or conferring sessions with an individual writer. Working through these common issues with your students will help ensure that revision will be a more successful endeavor. I would suggest creating a growing chart that lists and illustrates the different strategies for students to reference. Each of the mini note card charts I shared throughout the post is ideal for small groups or when conferring. However, creating a classroom chart that grows with strategies over time re-invites students to think about what works within their own writing.