Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is a Red Pencil Friend or Foe?

How many of you have students who write a first draft, turn it in, and considered it "done"? Most students would rather eat beets and liver for dinner than rewrite their stories, essays, or papers. Why is that? Perhaps it's because we haven't taught them what every published writer has realized: good writing depends on multiple rounds of critique, revision, and re-writing. Even though students may lack the maturity to realize that "written" does not equal "finished" or "publishable" But we can help them in this process by communicating that their own red pencil is really their best friend, not something to be "forgotten" at home, buried in the deep recesses of their backpack, or thrown away.

How can you communicate this important principle?

Three ways:

  1. Accept critique of your own work. When you write a sentence on the board, ask your students if they can think of a more vivid verb than what you have written. Is there a more specific noun? A more descriptive adjective? (Notice that adjectives are last on the list and adverbs are not even included! Lively writing is empowered by active verbs and precise nouns.) For some fun activities on using vivid verbs, see pp. 5 – 13 of Jane Kiester's book, Blowing Away the State Writing Test, also from Maupin House.
  2. Give your students tools so that they can critique their own work. When they have the red pencil in their own hands, they have responsibility and power. Click here for a free mini-lesson on peer editing from my book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Middle School.
  3. Encourage your students that all professional writers spend a lot of time and effort revising their work. "Very few stories are aced on the first shot. Leo Tolstoy rewrote Anna Karenina seventeen times. Jean Auel calls the revision stage 'where I get a handle on the book.' And Isaac Bashevis Singer considered the wastebasket the 'writer's best friend.'" Nancy Kress, Contributing Editor, Writer's Digest, July, 2005.

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