Revising and Editing Writing

5 Surefire Writing Strategies You Can Borrow from Social Media Right Now

Somewhere, someplace… there’s an essay due. And there’s a student (maybe even you!) who is staring at a blank page. Even after all the in-class lessons and maybe even tutoring for writing, the time has come… but the words won’t spring forward. Maybe the essay is due soon, and you need a solution. Maybe you’ve even made an outline and have plenty of research notes, but aren’t sure what to do next.

“Why does this have to be so hard?” You think as you bring up your Facebook or Instagram app and comment on a friend’s post. “Why can’t it be as easy as my social media feed?”

It can beCaptivating Instagram Writing. Whether we’ve noticed it or not, millions of students across the world are writing, each and every day. They’re posting their reviews of their favorite movies, adding their opinions in the comment sections of blogs, even sharing ideas that interest them deeply! Why, it’s a writing revolution!

So if writing on social media comes so naturally, why does our essay have to be so difficult? Is there anything we can learn from all the writing taking place on social media that can make it easier?

Yes! Let’s take a look at some writing strategies borrowed right from the writing habits you use every single day.

1. Consider Your Audience – It’s all about captivating them

It’s probably pretty obvious whenever you post to social media: you’re considering how your friends and family will interpret what you’ve said. But it goes much further than that: you want to capture your audience’s attention, not bore them to tears. The same goes for your essay audience. In many cases, your audience is the same friends and acquaintances (plus your teacher!) that you interact with on social media. What would interest them about your topic? What would convince them about your argument?

2. Build Your Network – Think of citations like a friends list

Whenever you tag a friend in a photo or give them a shout out on a comment, what are you really doing? Drawing attention to how awesome they are and giving them a little credit. Citations and quotations are exactly the same. By including quotes from other authors, you’re showing how your ideas, reasoning, and even your values are supported by people you respect (and who are respected by others). You even give credit by “tagging” the author so your audience can connect with them if they want! Citing your sources is a way to show how vast your intellectual network is. Don’t be afraid to show it off.

3. Share Something You Find Interesting – Connect the dots between facts & ideas

You don’t just post or share anything on your social media network; you share what you find interesting or are passionate about. Once you’ve thought about what will captivate your audience, share with them what you find most fascinating about your subject or topic. Is it weird that the character in the book you’ve read was driven by their past? Have you considered how your topic might impact the world for people your age? This is your chance to tell your readers, more formally, what you think. Connect those dots!

4. Apply Those Filters – Put ideas through a new lens to show multiple perspectives

Just like vintage filters make images look like they’re from another era or a vignette might focus in on one part of a photo, multiple perspectives give you the opportunity to play with ideas exactly like photos. In previous essays, your teacher may even have asked you to respond to possible criticism of your main writing points. Basically, you were considering multiple perspectives on the same topic and highlighting just how different the same topic can be to different people. Well, a neat trick is to use this technique all the time, the same way you would use multiple photo filters on Instagram to make a beautiful collage of images. Analyze your points from different perspectives to fully illuminate it.

5. Add Your Hashtags – Organizing the points you’re making… #awesome

While you can’t use hashtags in your essay (I know, I know!), that doesn’t mean that your main points don’t act in a very similar way. Hashtags come in all shapes and sizes, essentially letting you (and the online world) pull together and organize many photos, videos, and posts. Your essay’s main points are like the hashtags sprinkled throughout your feed. By using them again, you return to and remind your audience of what you find important about your subject. Best of all, your essay will be organized around the central points and ideas that guide your audience through what you’re thinking. Like with our other techniques here, you have the chance to play around and have a little fun, so your writing is a reflection of your own customized voice and thoughts.

Put Down the Red Pen

20081203_RedPensLet’s be honest with each other: Revision is the most dreaded step in the writing process, both for students and teachers. Why? To be blunt, often times it is a colossal waste of time, because it usually consists of students receiving back their writing with markings all over it, only to mindlessly rewrite it a second time, with maybe (if we’re lucky) some of the corrections added in. When this is the revision process, writing ceases to be a creative process and instead becomes a rote, dreaded hand-cramping task.

As educators, it is important to remember that the hand making the corrections is attached to the brain doing the learning. Thus, when students’ writing is returned already corrected for them, whether they’re 5 or 15 or 45, one of the most important processes: the refinement of their written thoughts, becomes pacified and a message of “I know better” is conveyed.
More importantly, a student’s written piece must be revered as the work of art (and heart) that it is. Few things feel more vulnerable than expressing one’s thoughts, feelings, and new-found knowledge on paper to be analyzed and critiqued. Just as we would object to art teachers painting on work in students’ portfolios or piano teachers interrupting performers to play the sonata better, so, too, must we question the underlying message teachers send when they return writing covered in red ink.

So what are teachers to do? It’s simple but oh so difficult to do; it’s remembering the answer to this question, “Who, ultimately, is the only person who can improve student performance?”

The answer: The student.

Indeed, teachers can begin to transform the revision process by putting down their correcting pens and instead engaging students in lessons and activities that will show them how to critique and augment their own writing.

Through future blogs, we’ll offer specific ways to enhance and upgrade the revision process to make it the respected and vital element of writing it is intended to be, all the while remembering it’s our job as educators to provide the tools and resources for revision and model using them so that students can then use them as they revise their own writing.

But for now, put down the red

But I wrote FOUR pages!

Excited school girlFrom my teaching career, there is one defining moment that continues to guide the mission of Writing with Design. Early in the school year, Cheyenne, a third grade student eagerly brought me her writing one morning. “Look what I wrote, Mrs. Parks!” she exclaimed. “I wrote FOUR pages!” I matched her enthusiasm as I told her I would read her story during lunch. 

Her story began: One day I walked up to my friend and I said, “Hi.” She said, “Hey.” I said “What do you want to play at recess today?” She said, “I don’t know.” So I said, “Do you want to meet at the swings?” She said, “Sure.”

The dialogue continued on to page two, three, and four. The entire piece was nothing but questions and answers, exchanged between third grade BFF’s.

As Cheyenne and I conferenced about her writing, it became clear to me that she knew the quality wasn’t great. She knew her piece wasn’t very exciting or interesting. What she was proud of was that she had written FOUR pages. She thought that would impress me “But, Mrs. Parks, I wrote FOUR pages!” she said with a confused brow.

It was in that moment that I realized how important it is for students to understand quality and length of writing are not synonymous. There is no status gained from being able to write a certain length, if quality is not present.

Fast-forward seven years, I continually observe many Cheyenne’s in classrooms across this country. Length is still very much the focal point for many students as they either proudly showcase their extra long pieces of writing, or as I hear them begrudgingly ask, “How long does it have to be?” Whether it’s with Cheyenne’s enthusiasm that they show off the length they were able to write, or want to know the length requirement so they can meet the bare minimum, the focus is on the wrong component of writing.

Writing with Design focuses on strength before length, on quality before quantity. Otherwise, writing is a waste of time for students to produce and teachers, fellow students, (you, me!) to read.

There is a process to great writing. There are steps and structures that allow for students to truly find their voice and tell a story worth telling.

Indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the Cheyenne’s of America’s classrooms grasp the notion that writing is not about filling up a sheet of paper; that the process, not just the product, is to be revered.

The Power of Post-It Notes

post-it notesTo ensure that students’ writing stays sacred, stays full theirs, when reviewing writing, put any comments for revision or editing on post-it notes or a separate sheet of paper. It’s important to remember as teachers that full ownership of the writing belongs to the student, whether they are 5 or 25. Thus, keeping all suggestions for improvement separate ensures they maintain ownership and the power to enhance their writing.

In addition, having the comments on the post-it, means students must transfer the changes to their paper, keeping them as the active learner and reviser, instead of the passive fixer. In other words, the hand that’s doing the writing is connected to the brain that’s doing the learning. So, give them clues and suggestions as to what changes would improve their writing. However, keep all the comments off the original work.

This small transfer of power and gesture of respect leads students to be tremendously more independent and confident in their writing because they see you, their teacher, as their guide instead of their corrector.

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