Slice of Life 28: Revising or Editing

(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)  Special thanks to the hosts of the Slice of Life Challenge:  StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.   More Slice of Life posts can be found at  Two Writing Teachers .

What is Revision?  What is Editing?

How would you explain the difference between these two processes?   In the CCSS, they are listed in the same anchor standard: “W.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.”

What is revising?

Once we define “revising” as literally meaning to “see again,” to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective, we can begin to teach it.  I used to use instruction that included “two stars and a wish” where partners respond with two elements of writing they like and one they wish that could be changed to strengthen the writing work.  It wasn’t specific enough.

How do we make the revision more visible to students?  Revising word choice has seemed easier to model.  “Circle two words in the work that seem repetitive, tired, or not clear.  Brainstorm possible words that would be stronger.  Make a decision to change at least one word in your writing piece.”

What was missing?  

I wondered if the  instruction needed to focus a bit more on the “why” for revision in order to emphasize that the purpose is to make the writing stronger.  Students studying written work  answered:  “Which of these two paragraphs is a stronger description?  Be prepared to state the specific details that are your evidence of strength.”     The before and after paragraphs are side by side here as they were projected on the screen:



Which would you rather read?  Why?  How did those sentences change?   What does their “revising language” sound like when the students are talking about revising?

I did show the students the following list that I created when I brainstormed some ideas about how this old house looked and the underlined phrases showed where I had used them.

How the house looked?

  • paint peeling
  • cracked windows
  • weeds around the house
  • big house that takes up most of the lot
  • two stories
  • shutters falling off the side of the house

So this revision instruction began with students studying two pieces of writing to see the revising changes and then ended with showing them how a brainstormed list of “how it looked” was used for specific ideas that were added, removed and substituted.  The students loved that they knew the house was “old” without saying the word “kind of like a riddle.”

Student revision is now about more than just moving a sentence around as students talk about changing words or phrases as they move, add, remove or substitute in the revision process.

What is editing? 

Editing has often been explained as what a copy editor does to fix up the writing to get it ready for publication.  The goal is to make the errors so few that the reader’s thinking is not interrupted as he/she reads.  Typical conventions include capitalization, punctuation, spelling and usage.  In the Core those are found in the Language Anchor Standards:

L. 1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

L. 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


How does instruction provide opportunities to “self-edit” in order to strengthen their writing?  Technology makes this easier as squiggles under a word alert me to check the spelling, but students need to be doing the work of “editing”  – not the teacher with a red pen.

How does that instruction work? One way to literally show the difference between revising and editing might be to teach some acronyms as a part of a mini-lesson after a lesson in revising like the one above where students did the work to figure out “how” the revision happened.

I believe this photo came from a #tcrwp friend but I apologize because I cannot credit the owner as I was not saving the source or the date at that time.  Let me know if you recognize the source as I would love to add the correct attribution!


How are your students strengthening their writing by revising or editing?  Do they “independently” revise or edit?

12 responses

  1. I taught middle school students for a long time, now help teachers K-8, & it’s different at each age, that re-seeing. Sometimes we’ve talked about “hearing”, reading the writing aloud to hear when it’s awkward, to see when it fails to show enough so that readers can make a picture in their minds, i.e. I focused on senses quite a bit. It’s so often a challenge to ‘see’ differently.

    1. So true! It’s easy for an author to have blinders that make it hard to see another view,. Modeling and practice with printed materials helps. Using the “different” lenses from “Falling in Love with Close Reading” could also give us another approach!

  2. This is very well put. There are big differences and I like how you broke them down here. Well done! Glad I stopped over to read this slice! I can see that you must be an excellent writing teacher when you take such care being reflective here.

    1. I am still in learning mode; this helped me clarify how
      my thinking has changed and consider other possibilities!

      l HATED the red inking that was done to my writing as I grew up. It did not help me be a better writer. In fact, I gave up on writing for quite awhile!


  3. Thanks for sharing practical advice on what is a difficult craft to teach. I also create a rubric of responses with my students that helps them to see how helpful different editing remarks can be. We definitely focus on specifics or evidence from text to support your thinking.

    1. Thanks! It is difficult to teach and students need to really consider the importance of all of their words! This is hard!

  4. Revising is more difficult, I believe, because the changes are not cut and dry at all. A change might include adding more “voice” to a conversation, or moving a paragraph from the middle to the end of a piece, or using more descriptive words, etc. Revising to me, is about craft moves.

    Editing, to me, is more straightforward. Making changes to present the piece as “correct.” Spelling check, paragraphs indented, capitalized words (or not), end marks, etc. Editing is changing the end piece to become a published form.

    1. Jennifer,
      I love your idea of “revising is about craft moves” and I also agree that is hard because there are so many ways to do it. And yes, editing is more straightforward.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

  5. Great job delineating between revision and editing. I think both are tough for kids (and probably lots of adults). Tom Newkirk used to always say that young kids don’t revise in the piece they have just finished, because in their minds that piece is done. Instead, they incorporate the writing strategy into their next piece of writing. To some degree, I think that is true. I especially liked your “old house” pieces. I also think this would be really useful for kids to do with their own writing.

    1. Thanks, Carol.

      I see a lot of kids copying a lot of work in the name of revision and that’s not helpful. Many of the #tcrwp staff developers talk about revising before writing by moving post its or in the “talking” rehearsal that precedes the writing. All of those are easier “before” the writing.

      It seems like our kids that are word processing could benefit a lot from some solid revising strategies!

  6. […] Revising or Editing? – my blog post […]

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