Revision for 3rd graders and others

IMG_0246I think all writers like talking about our processes. We are perhaps a fragile bunch, and talking about a process implies a seriousness that we can struggle to assert. In any case, I like talking about writing and editing, and yesterday I got to talk to one of my all-time favorite groups: my 3rd grader and his class.

The children have been working on revision this year. They know to use the acronym CUPS: Capitalization, Understanding, Punctuation, Spelling. I told them that my philosophy of revising is that even if something is correct it can still be better. We used an acronym SAFE to discuss ways to make a technically correct piece of writing more compelling. In case others are interested, here are the steps!

S: Shorter. Can I say it in fewer words? We discussed ways to remove mushy words and think about how many words are necessary. Sometimes we cut words and things get better. If we cut too many words, though, we become unclear. It is all about balance.

A: Active. Can I use active and vivid language? We talked about writing in verbs, and folding adverbs into verbs to create more precise images. The boy skied quickly down the ski slope becomes the boy zoomed down the ski slope, or the boy careened down the ski slope, or whichever image better suits.

F: Fun. Can I make this fun to read? Reading should be pleasurable. It should be compelling. Even if the topic is not fun, the prose itself should draw you in and be easy on the ear. Writers achieve this by varying sentence length, putting similar thoughts in parallel structure, and ending sentences or thoughts with strong short words. I encouraged the children to read their pieces out loud to make them sound like something that could be read out loud. After all, when people read what you write, they are actually saying the words in their heads!

E: Editor. Can I have someone else read this? We talked about how having an editor can help you see your writing in a new light. Other people can see things we cannot see ourselves. We talked about who can be the editor: a real, professional editor is great, but so is a friend or parent. You do not necessarily have to take all the suggestions. But learning what is good feedback and what is not is a skill worth developing too.

Photo: Another Longwood Gardens beauty


6 thoughts on “Revision for 3rd graders and others

  1. I’m marking essays at the moment and am tempted to send this to my 2nd year university students who write like they’ve swallowed the thesaurus.

  2. My son is in 5th grade now and I really struggle with guiding him on his writing without fixing it for him. He does the absolute minimum to get by….which drives me crazy. I’ll look to this list to help me.

  3. At open house one year the LA teacher paused for this wistful aside: there’s nothing harder than to get a middle school to revise their own work. So true. DS was working on a paper. I asked if he was on the first draft, Yes, he replied, but I’m writing neatly so that maybe it can be my final draft. Sigh. Once he moved on from middle school, though, he became an “English kid” and a damn good writer.

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