Help Your Students Improve Their Revision Skills

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How many times have you asked your students to revise their work, only to have all of the papers returned to the hand-in basket within a few minutes with little to no changes at all?  The problem is that many students lack the necessary grammar skills required to revise. 

Simply writing a comment on a student’s paper to suggest a revision isn’t enough.  These comments are usually unclear and unhelpful to them—i.e. ‘too vague, too wordy, repetitive, etc.’ Students need more support and instruction than this; they need someone to show them how to make these types of revisions if they are to learn how to revise their content and achieve optimum results.

Students need a well-rounded grammar foundation to write with competence, and that foundation should include learning very specific revision skills.  It doesn’t have to be a painstaking task, but it is a process that must be taught.

First, students must understand that revising means to find ways to improve word choices and sentences in their rough draft.  They must also understand that revising requires them to read their rough draft critically several times to make sure they’ve said what they intended to say in the way they intended to say it.  They must read it aloud to themselves, and it helps to read it aloud to others to help find the “rough spots” that could use improvement.

A checklist to revise and improve the rough draft can be extremely beneficial.  The following example will help students focus their attention on five of the traits of effective writing, including:  (1.) ideas, (2.) organization, (3.) word choice, (4.) voice, and (5.) sentence fluency.  Try it out in your classroom today to help your students improve their revision skills!

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The Impact of the Mnemonic Device

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I’ll never forget returning to my 6th grade language arts classroom after winter break.  Being the social type, I had stopped between classes to say hello to some of my friends, and I barely made it into the room before the tardy bell rang.  To my surprise, the desks had been rearranged into groups of four, and I had no idea where I was supposed to sit. Everyone else had obviously been in the room long enough to locate their desks, but I was caught off guard, and I knew that I was in for it!  Although my teacher was not humored, my classmates roared with laughter because of the look on my face!


As if my entrance had not been bad enough, my teacher personally led me to my seat, and that’s when I knew it was going to be a long semester! She had grouped me with three individuals that were all smart, studious, and extremely quiet.  I knew immediately that she had plans to keep my talking to a minimum by placing me beside these three individuals, and I wasn’t too happy about it.  Ne’er did I know that these three people were about to teach me about the art of competition!


From the get go, I instinctively knew that the other three members of my classroom quartet thought they were faster, smarter, and better than me when it came to academics. I knew that they were always focused and that I was often distracted, but something inside of me clicked that day, and all of the sudden, I had something to prove.  I was determined to outsmart and outshine all three of them!


I learned after the first spelling pre-test that my mission was going to be harder than I thought.  You see, my teacher had a routine of giving us a spelling pre-test on Monday and a final spelling test on Friday.  If anyone made a 100 on the pre-test, they didn’t have to take the test again on Friday.  I was always good at spelling (I hardly ever studied), but wouldn’t you know, I missed one word on the pre-test that day, and all three of them made a 100! I was furious and frustrated!  To top it off, I misspelled the word language!


That little faux pas taught me to use one of the best tricks known to mankind!  I learned to use mnemonic devices to help me memorize difficult spelling words and much, much more.  Mnemonic devices are useful tricks or methods that help people remember important information.  In order to memorize how to spell “language”, I attached a word to almost every letter, or I let the letter stand for itself.  Here’s what I came up with: 

Language:  Linda Ann Nixon Gave U A Good E

(Believe it or not, I still repeat that saying when I write out the word.) 


My sixth grade year was a year of personal growth!  I learned that I could focus and work harder.  Competition drove me to do my best at all times in my 6th grade language arts class, and it taught me to find easier ways to learn important information.  By the way, I also learned that when you do less talking, you can do more listening!  It helped! 


Here are some beneficial mnemonic devices I found by doing a quick web search.  I encourage you to always look for tools like these to help your students memorize important information.  Enjoy!


-When to use “affect” or “effect”: 



Affect = Verb

Effect = Noun


-If you’re still counting Pluto, here’s a cute one to help memorize the order of the planets from the sun: 

My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas! 

(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)


-How to remember who is on each bill:  When Jeff Left Home, Jack Got Fat! 

            Washington       $1

            Jefferson           $2

            Lincoln              $5

            Hamilton         $10

            Jackson           $20

            Grant                $50

            Franklin           $100


-The order of taxonomy: 

Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach

(Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus Species)


-The order of Mathematical Equations: 

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally 

(Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract)



Use To vs Used To: What's the difference?

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Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion with the way people use the idiomused to in a sentence.  Some write “use to and others write “used to?”  Do you know which one is correct? 

Use to and “used to cause confusion for a couple of good reasons.  First of all, they sound exactly the same when you say them out loud; however, one is correct and the other is often a mistake.  The second reason is because it can be used in the sentence as an adjective phrase or as a verb phrase. 

Before we step into usage quicksand, let’s quickly review idioms.  (You can also check out my previous blog on the subject entitled: What is an idiom?) “An idiom is an informal expression that cannot be understood simply by understanding its parts.  It is a figure of speech that has a separate meaning of its own, which is figurative and not literal.  When two or more words are expressed together to create a unique meaning that is different from the meaning of each of the individual words, an idiom is created.”

In order to understand how to use this idiom correctly when speaking and writing, let’s do a quick vocabulary check. 

Part 1: used to

As an adjective phrase, “used to” means “in the habit of” or “familiar with.”


Farmers are used to working outdoors in all seasons. 

(Farmers often work outdoors in the rain, snow, sleet, heat, and hail and are not bothered by it as much as people who don’t work outdoors.)

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Part 2: used to

As a verb phrase, “used to” or “did use to+ a verb means “did formerly; did in the past but not anymore. ---Usually used with an infinitive to tell about something past. 


Uncle Tim used to have a beard, but he shaved it off. 

(Uncle Tim once had a beard, but he doesn’t have one now.)

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Part 3: use to

The only time that it is correct to use “use towithout the –d at the end is when the base form of the verb is used along with a negative or in a question.  That’s because the form of the verb required is infinitive.

Example: (Note that past tense is shown with the words did and didn’t.)

She didn’t use to ride her bike before noon.

Did Uncle Tim use to have a beard?

The next time you are confused about using “use to” or “used to,” remember to do this quick vocabulary check. You will be glad you did!