There is a clear distinction between revising ideas and editing conventions. Students need to understand the difference so that they know what to do during the two very different stages.
Revision makes the piece SOUND a whole lot better–which addresses the traits of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. Editing makes the piece LOOK better (conventions). Because kids already confuse the difference between revision and editing, the more you can do to separate the two, the better. Announcing that writers are to “revise and edit today” will only continue to mislead students as to the two different roles these stages play in improving a piece.
One way to help students see the difference between editing and revision is to demonstrate the activities of each. For example, revision may include the following:
Add spider-leg sentences to develop ideas more completely (trait of ideas).
Apply story surgery where whole chunks of text are cut, added, and rearranged to improve the flow of ideas (trait of organization).
Vary sentence beginnings (trait of sentence fluency).
Strikethrough dinky words and replace them with strong purple words (trait of word choice).
The goal of revision is to make the piece sound better, more clear, more thorough. Revision shouldn’t be about rewriting or recopying. Teach students ways to create space within a draft so they can add, change, and cut content without recopying a word.
Remember, revision improves the writing dramatically, making it sound better (but might make it look worse). Editing makes the writing look better or more correct. When students use the triple line mark for capitalization or insert the paragraph sign to show a missing indent or squiggle-line a word to check the spelling, they are editing the writing. These are activities that improve the grammar and mechanics of the message.
Great Teacher Comments:
Here’s a funny one from second grade teacher Laura Bazant (Warren Elementary, Highland, IN).
“I taught my students spider legs yesterday and had boys saying, I don’t like writing, but this was fun!” They asked, “What are we doing tomorrow?” And I told them, “Story surgery.” They are very intrigued!”
Article originally posted May 14, 2008 and updated in March 2019.