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Teaching Nonfiction Revision

A Professional Writer Shares Strategies, Tips, and Lessons

Sneed B. Collard III and Vicki Spandel blow the roof off everything you thought you knew about teaching nonfiction writing and the purposes for revision.

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What happens when a bestselling nonfiction children’s book author pairs up with a nationally known writing teacher to discuss revision strategies?  Magic.
Sneed B. Collard III and Vicki Spandel blow the roof off everything you thought you knew about teaching nonfiction writing and the purposes for revision.  Dozens of strategy lessons pulled from Sneed’s professional writing experience followed by Vicki’s classroom-savvy tips and exercises give you the nuts and bolts of teaching revision to make nonfiction writing more meaningful, useful, and enjoyable for the reader.

Using a “big-to-small” process of revision, from Big Picture ideas down to individual words, Sneed and Vicki demystify revision and help students become clear, persuasive, compelling—even entertaining—writers. “With your encouragement and guidance,” they write, “students will discover the joy of turning their first rough ideas into something readers cannot put down.”

(click any section below to continue reading)


Teaching Nonfiction Revision Podcast


Part I: Setting the State
1. What Nonfiction Revision Is—and Isn’t
2. When and How Writers Revise
3. Creating an Environment That Supports Revision
4. Balancing Expectations
5. Creating a Vision
6. The Rewards of Research
7. Ready, Set, Write!
Part II: Big-Picture Revision
1. Isolate Your Main Idea
2. Research Your Topics—Again!
3. Add Missing Information
4. Cut, Cut, Cut!
5. Check Your Organization
6. Unleash Your Voice!
7. End with Something to Say
8. Give It a Rest
Part III: Scene Revision
1. Make Sure Every Scene Contributes
2. Craft for Cohesion
3. Create and Use Unforgettable Nonfiction Characters
4. Check Consistency in Tense and Pronoun Reference
5. Nail Those Transitions!
6. Lead into the Next Scene
Part IV: Paragraph Revision
1. Making Paragraphs
2. Make Sure It All Makes Sense
3. Put Sentences in the Best Order
4. Build Up Hooks
5. Pump Up the Action!
6. Vary Sentence Length and Structure
7. Ferret Out Contradictions and Falsehoods
8. Eliminate Unnecessary and Redundant Information
9. Eliminate Word and Phrase Repeats
Part V: Sentence Revision
1. Trim the Fat
2. Eliminate Passive Voice
3. Show, Don’t Tell
4. Move Trailing Phrases to the Front
5. Use “Real Language”—Even If It’s Wrong
6. Use Similes
7. Consider Metaphors—Sparingly
8. Choose Good Quotations
9. Find the Right Emotional Impact
Part VI: Word Revision
1. Cut Unnecessary Descriptors
2. Eliminate Intensifying Words
3. Remove Redundant Words—Again and Again!
4. Swap Weak Verbs for Strong Ones
5. Get Specific!
6. Use the Language of the Territory
Part VII: The Final Wrap

In Depth

Like most things, revision carries with it both bad and good news. The bad news is that it does indeed take years of practice to develop an intuition about where to take a piece of writing that isn’t working. The good news is that most revision is methodical.Professional writers consistently apply proven strategies to hammer and reshape nonfiction until it becomes something that educates and excites readers. These steps are not only definable, they are teachable.

That’s why we’ve written this book—to demystify the revision process and provide simple strategies you can readily teach your students. Think of these strategies as a Rosetta Stone of nonfiction revision. Students may not master every strategy on the first try, but they will make huge strides toward understanding the revision process. Given practice, they will write words you will actually look forward to reading.

We have organized this book into seven sections. “Part I: Setting the Stage” comprises seven short chapters that examine the nature of revision, foundational beliefs about teaching it, and early steps your students can take to promote effective revision later. These chapters, written in response to common questions from teachers, provide a critical context for the instructional strategies that follow.

Parts II through VI contain nuts-and-bolts teaching strategies designed to strengthen students’ nonfiction revision skills. These strategies proceed from “big” to “small,” and follow specific approaches many professional writers use to revise their work. We first tackle whole-manuscript issues such as content, organization, and the writer’s vision. After that, we gradually work our way down through scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and words.

Part VII concludes by offering final revision suggestions along with firsthand perspective about the entire revision process.

You can read strategies to yourself—or share them aloud with your students. In many instances, chapters may spark important and useful classroom discussions. The strategies in these chapters are pulled directly from Sneed’s extensive experiences writing and revising nonfiction—so when you see the word “I” in the main text, that is Sneed talking!

Following each strategy, Vicki has added two or more special features to help you teach and communicate that strategy to your students. Vicki has pulled these suggestions and exercises from her years of experience as a teacher, author, writing coach, writing workshop facilitator, and journalist. The “I” in these features is Vicki.

We want you to be able to travel through this book quickly, so we’ve kept each strategy as short as possible. Still, some revision concepts demand more attention than others, so we’ve allocated our word count accordingly.

Although our approach and exercises primarily target grades 4–8, teachers of both younger and older students can readily adapt lessons to fit their classroom needs. Whether you are a regular classroom teacher, a literacy specialist, or a writer yourself, this is your book, and we know you’ll figure out the best way to use it. So have fun—and get ready to launch!



Review by Jeff Hicks at SixTraitGurus


With a name like Sneed B. Collard III, he better be good, right? Absolutely right! A book about nonfiction revision from such a skilled, experienced writer of nonfiction? I’ve been reading and recommending his books for over twenty years. So, sign me up! But wait (and at the risk of sounding like a late night infomercial)—there’s more, so much more. With Teaching Nonfiction Revision, you get all of Sneed’s nonfiction-writer-wisdom, the real inside scoop on his process as a writer, AND the added bonus of writing guru-teacher whisperer Vicki Spandel’s classroom insight popping up at just the right moments, practically answering your questions before you can even ask them. I’ve known Vicki Spandel, and had the pleasure to work with her, for close to thirty years. So, it’s a done deal–double-sign me up!

One of my favorite things about this book is that Mr. Collard never tries to sugarcoat the truth about the act of revision: Revision is not always easy or fast. And, as you may already have experienced, revision, for many student writers, is a total mystery. He addresses the struggle students have with revision, using a sample of student writing, in the book’s introduction–when the page numbers are still Roman numerals! “Not knowing what else to do, students plug in extra facts, make sentences longer, fix spelling, change fonts, swap one word for another—or maybe insert an adjective, adverb, or exclamation mark for emphasis.” (xiv) I’m sure that “revision” of this type is something you’ve experienced in your own classroom. I’ve had middle school students take an even more direct route by simply printing two copies of their writing, labeling one “Rough” and the other “Final.” Boom! Done! The purpose behind this book is to remove this cloud of mystery, not with any magic words or spells but with “…nuts-and-bolts teaching strategies design to strengthen students’ nonfiction revision skills.” (xv) There are no promises of instant success, but these strategies offer a “Big” to “Small” path to understanding and application. “Students may not master every strategy on the first try, but they will make huge strides toward understanding the revision process. Given practice, they will write words you will actually look forward to reading.” (xv)

The passion both Sneed and Vicki have for their craft and for sharing it with teachers and students is the energy blowing away any clouds of mystery or misunderstanding about revision. Their voices are distinct and comforting—they write from and about real experiences. And that’s one of my other favorite things about Teaching Nonfiction Revision (there are many). The authors make it clear that a fuller understanding of the process of revision supported by the toolbox full of strategies this book provides, opens the door to happy, even joyful times for student writers and their teachers. Sneed lets readers in on his secret—revision is not only important work, it’s downright fun! Let me now share with you a few of my other favorite parts and features of Sneed and Vicki’s new book.



Review by Steve Peha, Founder of Teaching That Makes Sense

Finally! Revision That Makes Sense

Revision is hard for teachers to teach. It’s also hard for students to learn. Yet the only way we get better at writing is by working to make our writing better. Revision is how we do that. That’s why it’s the most important part of the writing process. And because it’s the most important part, it’s where we should be spending most of our writing time.

But we don’t. And this is probably why kids, on the whole, perform more poorly in writing — in college, at work, in life — than they do in almost everything else.

I think we all know how important revision is. I certainly have — for the last 35 years! But it’s only in the last five or ten that I’ve learned how to teach it well in a classroom setting.

Here’s are the three things that, until recently, that I allowed to hold me back in my teaching of revision:

  • I didn’t have a complete range of revision lessons to teach.
  • I was letting kids create pieces that were too long and subsequently having to revise chunks of writing that were too big.
  • I didn’t have even a rough sense of scope and sequence. I had a place I liked to start (and it’s still the same today) but I didn’t know were I wanted to end and what a logical progress of explicit instruction in revision might look like.

Once I got these three things, my revision teaching became exponentially better almost overnight. Since then, I’ve tried to figure out how to make revision easier for teachers to teach and more fun for students to learn. So it is in this spirit that I introduce you to, Teaching Nonfiction Revision: A Professional Writer Shares Strategies, Tips, and Lessons by Sneed Collard III and Vicki Spandel, published by Heinemann.