A common reply to any request of students to revise their writing is “What’s wrong with it?” This is a very good question because often there is very little if anything “wrong” with the piece of writing.
We as writers must get away from the idea that revision necessarily implies error. Here is an analogy that I have found has helped middle school students.
In the early 1970s, Atari released a revolutionary interactive video game called PONG. It was a very simple ping-pong or tennis game that had two small vertical lines on either side of the video screen serving as rackets or paddles. These lines could only be moved up and down turning a knob control. The object of the game was to align your “paddle” with a little white square “ball” that drifted across the screen, “hitting” it back to your opponent. If someone missed the “ball,” the opponent scored a point.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with PONG. However, revisions to the technology were made, and as the technology improved, so did the quality and quantity of video games.
In 1978, Atari came out with a video football game that, for the first time, allowed a video image to scroll up and down beyond the borders of a television screen. The game used Xs and Os as game pieces manipulated by joysticks to simulate very simple football plays. It was fun, and, again, there was nothing wrong with the game.
The early 1980s brought on more revision to video game technology. Japanese game designer Moru Iwatani created Pac-Man, the most popular video game of all time.
Atari released a home version of Pac-Man. The home version was very boxy as the technology did not allow for curves. The sound was tinny and the game board was a basic maze. It was fun at the time.
By the late 1980s, Atari was surpassed by Nintendo whose flagship game, Super Mario Bros. sold more copies than any other home video game in history.
From the late 1990s into the 21st century, Sony PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, XBox, etc. have topped the home video game market with brand new games as well as revisions of classic games like Pac-Man.
No sooner is one game finished being created when its revisions begin. Graphics, sounds, backgrounds are all improved upon making the games more exciting, more vivid, more interesting. Imagine if no one ever felt like revision the early video games.
Below is an activity that exemplifies the video game revision analogy as well as produce student writing.
Go on the Internet and find a picture of the old Atari Pac-Man game and one of the new Sony version of Pac-Man World game. Hand out the pictures of the two versions of Pac-Man. Have the students make a list of all the things that are the same about them. Then have them make a list of all the things that are different about them. When they are done their lists, ask them to decide which version they’d prefer to play. With a partner, have them talk about which version they chose and prepare to tell the class about at least three specific reasons why they chose the version they did. Remind the students to use their lists to help them explain the reasons for their choice. Finally, have the students write an essay that tells what version they chose, the reasons why they chose it, why those reasons are important to them and convince the reader that their choice is the best one. (For a more detailed written response, have the students play the two versions of the game and then write an essay that convinces the reader which version is best using specific details from the game as support.)
Remember, there was nothing wrong with the previous games, we, the game-playing public, simply want better games. We have to revise because, as writers, there is often not much wrong with our early drafts; we, the reading public, simply want better writing.