Tinkering as Final Revision

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SWBAT use their knowledge of syntax and word function to revise their college essays for tone and consistency of topic.

Big Idea

Removing excess words and tinkering with syntax can yield stronger writing.


Students have been working for the past few days on their college essay drafts in the library, where I have also been consulting with them so that they are in a good space regarding a topic and general organization.  The goal has been to have a strong draft today so they can practice revising and tinkering with language, based again on Harold Bauld’s book and the chapters on this topic.  

Methods of Tinkering with Language

30 minutes

I had asked students to read chapters seven and eight by today, too.  However, to make sure we are on the same page, we will read out loud the section of chapter seven concerning opening paragraphs and tone, and the section in chapter eight on language moves to pay attention to when tinkering.   I’m choosing to read this material out loud so I can immediately talk about the issues brought up and clarify, and also because I can more quickly cover a lot of ground and have time for the next part of the lesson, where we will model the revision and tinkering process.  This video shows some of the language issues Bauld suggests looking at:  College Essay Tinkering-1.m4v

Tinkering with Language: A Model

40 minutes

I asked students yesterday if anyone was willing to have their essay draft used to model revising as a class—a number volunteered;  I read through them and chose one where there were a lot of extra words and phrases that could be eliminated, so it would be a strong model for what Bauld says about tinkering. 

The student shared his draft with me on Google Drive so I can project it on the Smartboard and write there, too.   The process here will be rather simple to model a way to look for moments in need of organizational and tone revision.  First, I will have the student read the entire piece to us as if he were presenting it verbally to an admissions officer so we can listen for a particular tone that stands out (to help with this, I will ask the students to close their eyes so they can just use their ears to establish tone).  Reading out loud to someone to consider consistent tone is a recommendation from Bauld, and all students will read theirs to a partner tomorrow.  After the student has read, the class will spend about five minutes talking about observations on tone—what they would call the tone, when and if it stood out during the piece, inconsistencies, etc.   Additionally, we will talk about the central idea about the student that is shining through, when, etc.  After we’ve done that, the writer will have a chance to ask questions and also tell us what tone and central idea he was going for (this could also be done in small groups with hand-written feedback if the class composition warranted that kind of protocol—this class is very comfortable with each other at this point in the year, so the safety features are already in place).

To model tinkering, we will look at the first paragraph and go sentence by sentence looking at diction, syntax, extra words, etc.  This is the part of the writing process that is still a challenge for some students, so I will model by recommending a couple words that could be eliminated (for example, part of the first paragraph is “When I was fourteen I wanted a motorcycle. The idea was intoxicating, and I dreamed of flying down the road, with the wind flying through my hair. . . ”—the sentence continue with more positive attributes in the list.  I will suggest changing the last phrase to “wind in my hair” because it gets the same idea, doesn’t change tone, and makes the whole narrative tighter).  From here we will continue with this sentence to sentence process, considering how the beginning of each sentence  builds on the previous one (reminding them of our theme/rheme lesson), diction, re-phrasing, etc.   This process will not only model how to tinker with a piece, but also model how they can help each other in the coming days as they revise and tinker with their own piece.

Next steps:  Students will work in the library tomorrow in pairs, reading their pieces out loud to get peer-response regarding tone, central idea and consistency, and also work on the tinkering process.  This will be what class time is used for in the remaining few days of the school year, and I will help students individually as they need it.