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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Writing CCRA.W.5

5. Production and Distribution of Writing: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Back in the bad old days, before everyone was connected by that newfangled interweb, writing was a long process. First you came up with ideas; then you did some planning; then you wrote a first draft; then you took a red pen to your first draft and did some editing…and so on. These days, you just type up whatever it is you want to say and it’s published (electronically, at least) within minutes. While that’s fine for a status update or a tweet, it’s simply not good enough for your college professors or bosses (or your high school teachers, for that matter). You need to make sure you have written the best and most effective piece possible. How? By using the writing process.

Start by planning your writing. It’s difficult to know where you are going if you don’t start with a plan. This is where you brainstorm, make idea webs, create an outline and otherwise create a map for yourself as to what your piece will look like.

Then you write your first draft, which is what most of you are writing at 1:00 a.m., the night before the essay is due. Most students turn in their first drafts, meaning that they never revisit what they wrote the first time to make sure that it’s the best writing they can create. They just turn in whatever they have and hope for the best. This may sound like your mother on repeat, but starting earlier will give you a chance to write and then revise your best piece so you won’t be scrambling the night before to get your only draft done.

Editing, revising and rewriting are three sides to the same coin. (We’re assuming there’s a three-sided coin out there somewhere.) But once you have your first draft written, it’s time to improve it through these three processes. Editing is probably the easiest part. That is where you find any grammatical or spelling mistakes and fix them. Editing is something you will do several times as you review what you have written and changed with each draft.

Revising and rewriting sound like the same thing, but they are different. Revising is going back over the piece and deciding if it makes logical sense, if it responds to the prompt correctly and if it says exactly what you want it to say. Revising is all about figuring out what your message is and deciding if you’ve said it effectively. Rewriting, on the other hand, is changing your words, sentences and paragraphs to make sure you are saying what you want to say.

Sometimes, you’ll find that you are not actually making yourself clear despite all your planning, editing, revising and rewriting. That’s when it’s time to call in the big guns, writing-wise. That is, it’s time to take a different approach by starting over from the very beginning. Instead of going over and over your first draft with a red pen until it bleeds, just recognize that a fresh start is needed. You’ve written one draft—what doesn’t it say very well? How can you get it to say what it needs to say? You might have to take the drastic step of chucking your first draft and starting over with a new draft. Taking a different approach can be a little daunting after you’ve already put work into a draft. But it will certainly get your writing to the point where it says what you mean and it means what you say.

Example

Your teacher has asked you to write an essay about the best movie you ever saw and why it is so superior to every other movie out there. What might you have to do in order to plan, revise, edit, rewrite and take a new approach for this essay?

Planning

The first thing you’ll have to do is watch the movie again. (Watching a movie for homework? Wow!) How is that planning? Well, you’ll need to review in your own mind why this film is the greatest you’ve ever seen. You will need to gather evidence and figure out what it is you love about it.

Once you’ve done this, you have several options available to you for further planning. First is brainstorming. Remember how in kindergarten your teacher would ask you to put on your imaginary thinking cap so you could come up with a list of ideas about something? Well, we’re not going to ask you to do that because it’s kind of geeky. But you can start making a list of things that are great about the film. Jot these ideas down as quickly as possible and keep ’em coming. Remember what Miss Whosis told you in kindergarten—there are NO bad ideas in brainstorming.

Now it’s time to start more concrete planning. Webbing is where you focus on a central idea (This movie is the greatest of all time because…) and connect your reasons and evidence to that central idea. (Hint: that central idea will probably be your thesis!)

Your idea web can get more and more precise as you build off of each idea.

If you’re more of a linear thinker, the classic planning tool is an outline. With an outline, you draw yourself a map of what the essay will look like when it is completed. The above idea web could become an outline like this:

I. Introduction Paragraph
A. Introduce the movie
B. Thesis statement: This is the greatest movie ever because of the car chases, romance and fantastic soundtrack.
II. Body Paragraphs
A. Car Chases
1. San Francisco motorcycle chase
2. Highway chase with police
B. Romance
1. First kiss in the rain
2. Scene in the meadow when he says, “I love you.”
C. Soundtrack
1. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
2. Poker Face by Lady Gaga
III. Concluding Paragraph
A. Restate the thesis
B. Summarize the supporting information

Using one or both of these planning tools will make writing the first draft a great deal easier.

Editing

This is the easiest step and one that many people skip. The first defense of editing is the magical spell and grammar check function that comes standard on any computer. Use it!

Once the machine has determined what you can fix, print out that bad boy, because no matter how smart Bill Gates is, there is no computer program that can find and fix every misspelling and grammatical mistake that we humans can make. It takes a human (armed with a red pen) to fix human errors. So mark up your draft the old fashioned way, and then type in the corrections into your essay.

Revising

The single greatest asset you can have in your revision process is time. If you are writing your essay long before the due date (and sociologists have determined that this has happened at least once or twice in the history of essay-writing), then you can put the first draft on ice for a few days (not literally—the ink might run). This means that when you come back to re-read the essay, you’re looking at the writing with new eyes. You’ll want to ask yourself if what you wrote made sense.

This is also when you want to look back at the prompt for the essay. What exactly does your teacher want you to discuss in your tribute to the greatest film of all time? Have you answered all the questions the prompt poses? It’s also a good idea to compare your planning to your first draft and make sure that you haven’t lost anything important or added anything unnecessary in your writing.

Rewriting

This is where you make changes based on what you think you could do better. Revising is about making that first draft clearer and more to the point. Rewriting is where you throw out the bits that aren’t working and write them over again. Yes, it hurts to let your words end up in the trashcan, but trust us: the words don’t feel a thing.

When you are rewriting, it’s really helpful to CLOSE the original document in which you wrote your first draft. It’s much harder to kill off those pesky words if you have them staring at you from the computer screen. When you are rewriting, have a hard copy in front of you and blank word processing document open on your computer. Otherwise, the necessary word-ectomies can be next to impossible.

Trying a New Approach

Despite having the world’s greatest essay assignment, you may find that after all of this work, your essay makes no sense. Reading over your first and second draft, you may find that it’s not clear why this movie is so great. Have you ever heard the phrase “fire cleanses all?” This is one of those situations where you might have to destroy what you’ve already created in order to start over fresh. (Please note: We do not condone the actual use of fire to make a fresh start with your essay).

Okay, so you have to start over again. How?

Usually, when nothing you’ve written makes sense, it’s usually because you don’t really know what you want to say. So this is a good time to think outside the box. Maybe you could brainstorm a list of things that make a movie bad, and then look at how your film doesn’t do those things. (Or does the opposite of them). Maybe you could think of how you felt after the first time you saw the film, or what the film reminds you of in your life. Maybe you could choose a different “greatest movie you’ve ever seen”. The main point of trying a new approach is to throw out the old thought patterns that led to a not-great essay the first time around. Remember: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

  1. The following is an excerpt from the essay “The Pleasure of Writing” by A.A. Milne:

    Sometimes when the printer is waiting for an article which really should have been sent to him the day before, I sit at my desk and wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon which I can possibly find anything to say. On one such occasion I left it to Fate, which decided, by means of a dictionary opened at random, that I should deliver myself of a few thoughts about goldfish…But to-day I do not need to bother about a subject. To-day I am without a care. Nothing less has happened than that I have a new nib in my pen.

    In the ordinary way, when Shakespeare writes a tragedy, or Mr. Blank gives you one of his charming little essays, a certain amount of thought goes on before pen is put to paper. One cannot write “Scene I. An Open Place. Thunder and Lightning. Enter Three Witches,” or “As I look up from my window, the nodding daffodils beckon to me to take the morning,” one cannot give of one’s best in this way on the spur of the moment. At least, others cannot. But when I have a new nib in my pen, then I can go straight from my breakfast to the blotting-paper, and a new sheet of foolscap fills itself magically with a stream of blue-black words…

    Because Mr. Milne happens to have a new nib (tip) in his fountain pen, what writing step is he willing to ignore when creating this piece of writing?

    Correct Answer:

    Planning

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. Milne makes it clear that usually a great deal of thought must go into what he is writing. But since he has the pleasure of writing with a new fountain pen nib (this is theorized by historians to being similar to the pleasure of having a brand new phone to text with), he plans to do no planning for his writing, and to instead just see what comes.


  2. Milne mentions that he sometimes has no idea what to write about when he is behind on a deadline. On one occasion, he wrote about goldfish because he simply opened a dictionary and wrote about whatever he saw on the page he opened. What strategy for strengthening writing does that represent?

    Correct Answer:

    Trying a New Approach

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. Fighting writer’s block is a common problem among writers, and it helps to try a completely new way of thinking about your writing in order to get past the block. By writing about whatever the dictionary opened to, Milne tried a different way of generating an idea.


  3. If A.A. Milne were still alive and interested in reworking this essay to have it reflect how people write now, what might he have to do?

    Correct Answer:

    Revise the essay so that it discusses the joys of typing and texting.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is B. The essay as it is written does not necessarily make sense to a modern reader, who has probably never held a fountain pen and therefore doesn’t know how good it feels to write with a brand new nib. However, the fun of typing and texting is something that the modern reader can understand, so that is how Milne might want to revise his essay. Planning a modern way of talking about an old joy does not help make the essay more accessible. Milne would not need to do any additional editing yet. (He probably will need to work on the editing once he’s completed his next draft. Except that he’s dead. It’s hard to use a red pen when you’re dead.) The proposed rewrite that would make each fountain pen reference a reference to Facebook would make the entire essay less clear, since major revision is necessary to describe the changes from an old way of writing to the new ways of writing. And finally, it would be fine to look at how others deal with this subject as a different approach, except that Milne will want to revise the subject itself.


  4. The following excerpt is from Joseph Devlin’s “How to Speak and Write Correctly.” The amusing effect of disregarding the reference of pronouns is well illustrated by Burton in the following story of Billy Williams, a comic actor who thus narrates his experience in riding a horse owned by Hamblin, the manager:

    “So down I goes to the stable with Tom Flynn, and told the man to put the saddle on him.”

    “On Tom Flynn?”

    “No, on the horse. So after talking with Tom Flynn awhile I mounted him.”

    “What! mounted Tom Flynn?”

    “No, the horse; and then I shook hands with him and rode off.”

    “Shook hands with the horse, Billy?”

    “No, with Tom Flynn; and then I rode off up the Bowery, and who should I meet but Tom Hamblin; so I got off and told the boy to hold him by the head.”

    “What! hold Hamblin by the head?”

    “No, the horse; and then we went and had a drink together.”

    “What! you and the horse?”

    “No, me and Hamblin; and after that I mounted him again and went out of town.”

    “What! mounted Hamblin again?”

    “No, the horse; and when I got to Burnham, who should be there but Tom Flynn,–he’d taken another horse and rode out ahead of me; so I told the hostler to tie him up.”

    “Tie Tom Flynn up?”

    “No, the horse; and we had a drink there.”

    “What! you and the horse?”

    “No, me and Tom Flynn.”

    Finding his auditors by this time in a horse laugh, Billy wound up with: “Now, look here,–every time I say horse, you say Hamblin, and every time I say Hamblin you say horse: I’ll be hanged if I tell you any more about it.”

    Obviously Billy Williams’s story is not clear. Which of the following strategies for strengthening writing would NOT help to improve the story?

    Correct Answer:

    Billy could edit all of his spelling and grammatical mistakes.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is B. While Billy’s story is unclear, spelling and grammatical errors are not the reason why the story is unclear. Billy could plan out his story to make sure that he’s clear, revise the story based on what doesn’t make logical sense, rewrite the story so that each pronoun is used clearly, or start over in how he tells the story so that there is no confusion.


  5. If he were to rewrite the story, what would help to make it clearer?

    Correct Answer:

    Using “it” when he means the horse and “he” when he means Tom Flynn or Hamblin.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. Billy Williams has a problem with ambiguous pronouns. It’s unclear from his story when he is talking about the horse and when he is talking about a man. This solution would fix that. Changing the verb tense would do nothing to affect clarity. The semi-colons are necessary for clarity. The verbs are all already active, and his nouns and verbs already agree.


  6. Read the story “Clever Hans” by the Brothers Grimm:

    The mother of Hans said: “Whither away, Hans?” Hans answered: “To Gretel.” “Behave well, Hans.” “Oh, I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What do you bring that is good?” “I bring nothing, I want to have something given me.” Gretel presents Hans with a needle, Hans says: “Goodbye, Gretel.” “Goodbye, Hans.”

    Hans takes the needle, sticks it into a hay-cart, and follows the cart home. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “Took nothing; had something given me.” “What did Gretel give you?” “Gave me a needle.” “Where is the needle, Hans?” “Stuck in the hay-cart.” “That was ill done, Hans. You should have stuck the needle in your sleeve.” “Never mind, I’ll do better next time.”

    “Whither away, Hans?” “To Gretel, mother.” “Behave well, Hans.” “Oh, I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What do you bring that is good?” “I bring nothing. I want to have something given to me.” Gretel presents Hans with a knife. “Goodbye, Gretel.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans takes the knife, sticks it in his sleeve, and goes home. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “Took her nothing, she gave me something.” “What did Gretel give you?” “Gave me a knife.” “Where is the knife, Hans?” “Stuck in my sleeve.” “That’s ill done, Hans, you should have put the knife in your pocket.” “Never mind, will do better next time.”

    “Whither away, Hans?” “To Gretel, mother.” “Behave well, Hans.” “Oh, I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What good thing do you bring?” “I bring nothing, I want something given me.” Gretel presents Hans with a young goat. “Goodbye, Gretel.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans takes the goat, ties its legs, and puts it in his pocket. When he gets home it is suffocated. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “Took nothing, she gave me something.” “What did Gretel give you?” “She gave me a goat.” “Where is the goat, Hans?” “Put it in my pocket.” “That was ill done, Hans, you should have put a rope round the goat’s neck.” “Never mind, will do better next time.”

    “Whither away, Hans?” “To Gretel, mother.” “Behave well, Hans.” “Oh, I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What good thing do you bring?” “I bring nothing, I want something given me.” Gretel presents Hans with a piece of bacon. “Goodbye, Gretel.” “Goodbye, Hans.”

    Hans takes the bacon, ties it to a rope, and drags it away behind him. The dogs come and devour the bacon. When he gets home, he has the rope in his hand, and there is no longer anything hanging on to it. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “I took her nothing, she gave me something.” “What did Gretel give you?” “Gave me a bit of bacon.” “Where is the bacon, Hans?” “I tied it to a rope, brought it home, dogs took it.” “That was ill done, Hans, you should have carried the bacon on your head.” “Never mind, will do better next time.”

    “Whither away, Hans?” “To Gretel, mother.” “Behave well, Hans.” “I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.” Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What good thing do you bring?” “I bring nothing, but would have something given.” Gretel presents Hans with a calf. “Goodbye, Gretel.” “Goodbye, Hans.”
    Hans takes the calf, puts it on his head, and the calf kicks his face. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “I took nothing, but had something given me.” “What did Gretel give you?” “A calf.” “Where have you the calf, Hans?” “I set it on my head and it kicked my face.” “That was ill done, Hans, you should have led the calf, and put it in the stall.” “Never mind, will do better next time.”

    “Whither away, Hans?” “To Gretel, mother.” “Behave well, Hans.” “I’ll behave well. Goodbye, mother.” “Goodbye, Hans.”

    Hans comes to Gretel. “Good day, Gretel.” “Good day, Hans. What good thing do you bring?” “I bring nothing, but would have something given.” Gretel says to Hans: “I will go with you.”

    Hans takes Gretel, ties her to a rope, leads her to the rack, and binds her fast. Then Hans goes to his mother. “Good evening, mother.” “Good evening, Hans. Where have you been?” “With Gretel.” “What did you take her?” “I took her nothing.” “What did Gretel give you?” “She gave me nothing, she came with me.” “Where have you left Gretel?” “I led her by the rope, tied her to the rack, and scattered some grass for her.” “That was ill done, Hans, you should have cast friendly eyes on her.” “Never mind, will do better.”

    Hans went into the stable, cut out all the calves’ and sheep’s eyes, and threw them in Gretel’s face. Then Gretel became angry, tore herself loose and ran away, and was no longer the bride of Hans.

    We don’t know that Gretel is Hans’s fiancée until the very end of the story. How could the author try a different approach to make the story clearer?

    Correct Answer:

    Start with the sentence: “This is the story of how Hans lost his bride, Gretel.”

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. By starting the story with the fact that Gretel decides not to marry the eye-thrower, the entire story is a great deal clearer. While it could be interesting to see what Gretel thinks about her stupid fiancé, that is not necessarily going to help clarity. Re-titling the story would actually make things less clear. By giving the fairy tale a sarcastic title, we have an idea of what to expect from the story. Starting the story in the middle would actually make things a lot less clear. And changing the verbs to past tense would make no difference one way or another for clarity.


  7. What editing does this story need?

    Correct Answer:

    There should be a new paragraph with each new speaker of dialog.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is D. Each time a new person speaks dialog, there should be a new paragraph with proper indentation. There are no misspelled words, verb disagreement or sentences with preposition cabooses. And no one would ever ask you to always put a comma after every “and.”


  8. If the process of revision is about making certain that a piece of writing makes logical sense to a reader, what is most in need of revision in “Clever Hans?”

    Correct Answer:

    The beginning does not introduce Hans, Gretel or Hans’s mother, so we know nothing about them.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is A. Without knowing anything about the three characters, it is a little confusing for the reader to know why each one is acting the way he or she is. Introducing each character before starting the story would help to make it clearer why Hans is so dumb. While the conversations do always sound the same in this story, it does not hinder the reader’s understanding. Also, it’s true that Hans shouldn’t be able to get a calf on his head, but that is the least of the problems with this story. First we need to understand why Hans is always going about things as strangely as possible. Finally, options D and E simply are not true about this story.


  9. If you were to create an idea web for this story, what ideas might you connect together?

    Correct Answer:

    Each gift and what Hans did (and should have done) with it.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is C. The entire thrust of the story is about how Hans did the wrong thing with each gift, so it would make the most sense to plan out the story by connecting each gift with each mistake. Hans’s relationships and conversations are secondary. And as much as we all might want to know what happened to the poor blind farm animals, it’s not the point of the story. Finally, Hans never brought Gretel any presents. (Can anyone blame her for leaving him, even if you discount the whole throwing eyes at her thing?)


  10. Of the problems we’ve identified, what could rewriting help to fix?

    Correct Answer:

    B and C

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is E. When the author rewrites “Clever Hans,” he can make sure he changes the wording of each conversation so that it becomes more interesting, as well as making sure that the dialog follows the grammatical rules for dialog. There’s nothing the author can do about Hans’s stupidity, which is really what led to the whole calf-on-the-head phenomenon.


Aligned Resources

More standards from College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing - Writing