Revising the Task of Revision

I can still hear the collective groan from my third grade class when I first announced that we would be “revising” our writing. The task of going back and re-considering, re-thinking, and changing something we wrote is not always a pleasant idea, even for the best of writers, and for a bunch of elementary students it’s even harder. Kids this age are not used to slowing down (we don’t often get a chance to let them), and I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who has heard her share of the phrase, “I’m DONE!” after only five minutes of writing. They are all about moving on to what is next.


The last time I wrote I talked about the importance of sketch journals for students and teachers, as a place to collect ideas and about drafts the way a greenhouse is used for nurturing young plants. Revision can be seen as the moment to harvest what we’ve grown, and create a meal to share with our readers. After using our journals for a couple of months, there are enough entries from which to choose. Because each journal entry consists of a picture and writing, we became committed to honoring the picture in our revision process in my classroom. Going back and re-drawing something became the first and most important step in our revision process. There are many ways to revise a picture: 1. use a different art material; 2. take a different perspective; 3. change the setting; 4. zoom in; 5. zoom out; 6. add more details or characters. ┬áThe kids came up with countless ways and were happy in this stage of the process.

Marc’s first picture


Marc’s second picture

What they didn’t realize as they re-made their pictures was that they were already beginning to revise their writing. All these changes led to re-thinking what they wrote. And it made it easier for me as the teacher to conference with them, pointing out that changing perspective might mean a change in voice; a different material might change the mood (one child decided that using pastels turned her picture into a “long ago fuzzy memory” and re-wrote it accordingly; and certainly more details meant more description. And the revision just happened, pain-free. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the pictures kept them engaged and committed to their work in a deeper way, or if the visual stories they made helped them to see what they needed to do – or a combination of both. Below you can see the explosion of writing that came from the child that drew the islands above: the original writing as compared to what he wrote after revising the picture:

Marc’s first writing


Marc’s second writing: “I thought there was a shark under us because it was all bumpy because we were going so fast. We finally reached the island. We all got off the boat and set up our tents…we were able to see the sunset. It looked beautiful. The color in the sky filled my eyes.”


The collecting of little drawings and short spurts of writing which were filling our journals became clear when we chose a piece to revise. And instead of hearing, “I’m done,” I swear I started hearing the occasional, “Can I revise this?”