Writing with Colors: Using Highlighters to Edit Our Work

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SWBAT develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach by highlighting and editing their rough drafts on a choice read.

Big Idea

Writing with Colors "highlights" the strengths and weaknesses in the rough draft.

Getting Started

5 minutes

Today is the last day that I collect the answers to the questions to the chapters of Great Expectations that they read independently. The students have been doing a fairly good job with these questions; a few kids clearly looked online instead of reading, but once they realized that I could tell the difference, the work improved. As I collect the homework, they will put the necessary tools for today's lesson on their desks: the prompt, their outline, intro, and the model long composition.

Let's Highlight!

20 minutes

Students will have time to highlight their body paragraphs at the beginning on class (W.9-10.5). As a department, we utilize a program called Writing with Colors. Our department head was instrumental in the development of this technique and we have found success with it. Each color stands for an element of the essay: 


  • Thesis and topic sentence are highlighted pink
  • Textual evidence is highlighted green
  • Commentary and analysis is highlighted blue
  • Transitions are highlighted orange
  • Particularly impressive language and style is highlighted yellow. 


As students highlight, they see, in a new way, which elements they are missing or could strengthen. For instance, one student realized that he didn't have a single transition in the entire essay. After highlighting, he knew to go back and add words and phrases that will connect his ideas and sentences. Another student realized that she needed stronger topic sentences. 


This method doesn't work for all students, but it really helps others. Either way, it is a good use of time because it makes everyone slow down and focus on one sentence at a time. Plus, it helps me check the essays quickly during class; I can see right away how to direct them further as writers. 

Now We Know What to Edit

30 minutes

After highlighting and adding in missing information, students may feel like they are finished, but this is when I see the editing process as actually starting (W.9-10.5). I tell students that by the end of this class, I want their papers to look messy and jumbled; I want them to make so many changes and improvements that it's hard to follow and read. You can see the changes made between draft 1 and draft 2

Inevitably someone asks, "what's left to do?" Such a dangerous question for a teacher! I wait for this question; it's my opportunity to focus them on diction. I find that the biggest issue with freshmen essays is elementary language. I want to push them to use fewer, but more precise words and phrases (L.9-10.1b). Therefore, I use this short presentation to start the discussion about verbs and passive voice. I also grant a point for each vocabulary word used correctly and appropriately in the essay. I have had students raise their essay grades half a letter just by properly using vocab. 

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

Student need to clean up some of their essays for the next class. They do not need to have a full final draft, but they need to be ready for a short discussion on conclusion and have a draft good enough for a peer to read and follow.