Monthly Archives: August 2012

Helping Writers Develop Their Own Ideas: Revising the Content of Writing

Peggy McGuire photo

Peggy McGuire
EFF Writing Content Expert

As mentioned in a previous post,  I presented ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transition at COABE in April this past year. One thing that stood out for me was a lively conversation by the participants around the ‘revision’ component of the Convery Ideas in Writing  process.*

When you think of “revising” a draft piece of writing, what activity comes to mind?

When you ask students to “revise” their first draft of a written text, what are you actually asking them to do?

For many of us, revision of writing immediately brings to mind the act of “correcting” – correcting mistakes in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. – that might also be called proofreading. There is no doubt that it is important to learn how to correct mistakes like these in writings. Otherwise, errors could get in the way of a reader’s ability to understand what we are trying to say in our writing. Further, if our students can fix mistakes of these kinds, they are providing evidence that they know about, and can correctly use, common writing conventions.

There is, however, another meaning for revision. This meaning, while sometimes overlooked, is important for our students to be aware of and understand: revision of the actual content of their writing. If our goal is to Convey Ideas in Writing, then content revision is the strategy for making sure that we are conveying our intended ideas to our targeted audience via our written text. And of course, content revision is a process that we can teach our students to employ for all types of writing tasks at ANY functional level (not just for those transitioning into postsecondary settings).

Do you currently ask your students to engage in content revision of their writing drafts? If so, what activities or strategies do you use to support them in the content revision process?

Here are a couple of ideas for helping your students learn how to revise the content of their writing:

Idea #1: Compare Your Draft to Planned Ideas

So much of successful, effective writing comes back to what we do (or don’t do!) during the planning stages – affecting all other components of the writing process, even content revision.  Once your students have produced a first draft, encourage them to compare it to the information and ideas they generated during their planning, and then to decide if they have said everything that they planned to say about the topic. To come up with ideas for ‘what to write about,’ did the student:

  • Brainstorm a list of terms/key points on the topic?
  • Make a mind map?
  • Freewrite on the topic?
  • Develop an outline?
  • Keep a writing journal?
  • Highlight important information in a text they were reading?

Whatever kind of planning was done to generate and organize ideas to use in writing, at the content revision stage, encourage your students to:

  1. Look at the results of their planning,
  2. Reread their drafts,
  3. Reflect, and decide:
    • Did I incorporate all the ideas I wanted to into my draft?
    • Did I miss anything important?
    • Did I include anything that doesn’t really seem to belong there now?
    • Did I come up with new ideas that I hadn’t thought about when I was planning?
    • And in the end, is my point clear and am I saying what I want to say about my topic?

 Idea #2: Seek Feedback on Your Writing

Revising writing content becomes much easier when a writer can get direct and constructive feedback from an external audience. This can give writers an immediate sense of whether or not they are in fact conveying the ideas they want to convey. So – encourage your students to find an audience!

Your student-authors can ask someone they trust to read what they have written (or listen to them read it aloud – remember, the focus is on content, not writing mechanics at this point). Authors can then prompt the readers/listeners to:

  • Tell the authors what they ‘heard’ in the piece of writing – basically “reflecting the piece back” to the writers.
  • Ask questions and/or clear up any confusion about specific points, asking the authors what they meant to convey.
  • Describe to the author specifically what they liked about the piece. This gives authors information about what’s working well in their writing.
  • Describe the words or images that stood out for them as they read/listened to the piece of writing.
  • (If needed) Ask the authors, “What’s hard/easy about writing this piece?” This gives the writers a chance to talk about what’s blocking them, and to find their own ways ‘through’ the block.

As you may have noticed, this idea can also assist students to be effective peer reviewers/editors as well!

The above activites are designed to provide feedback focused on helping writers develop their own ideas. Note, however, that your student-authors may need a bit of practice before they feel comfortable performing these tasks. It may be a good idea to model these strategies with your students, and provide supported practice opportunities before asking them to use them on their own. They will find, however, that the payoff can be considerable. Such strategies for content revision empower students to really think about the substance of their writing and to revise their drafts (as needed) to meet their own communication goals.

What is your experience with teaching content revision to adult literacy (or ESL) learners? Please post a comment to share your ideas, thoughts, and insights. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  • Have you ever taught your students strategies like these? How did it go?
  • Have you used other effective strategies for helping your students revise the content of their writing? If so, please share!

We look forward to hearing from you!

*Note that effective revision of writing is also a  Writing Anchor Standard of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and as such appears at every grade level of these Standards.

For more ideas, take a look at how these two writing lesson examples from the EFF Teaching Learning Toolkit  address content revision:
Heritage Books: Family Literacy    Preparing for Release: Corrections

Post Contributor:

Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies

In the News: Engaging Beginning Writers

Here’s something we found online that seems like a good resource for adult education practitioners:

Aaron Kohring
Manager, EFF Project

I recently read an Education Week Teacher article, Motivating Reluctant Writers With Journals. The author, Laurie Wasserman, offers suggestions for supporting “…students who are hesitant to share their thoughts in writing.”

Although drawn from her experiences with K-12 students, I saw in her article many applications for our adult education learners. She recommends  journaling — which I have used many times with my hesitant adult education writers, as well as the use of peers/teachers as scribes for individuals with more severe writing barriers (including learning disabilities) to help get them started in the writing process. She makes several other suggestions including ‘relatable topics’ – relating writing to the real-world (or contextualized instruction).

This article also reminded me of how useful the Language Experience Approach (LEA) can be in supporting hesitant writers, as well as in providing both reading and writing practice.  All of which then (of course), leads me to wonder about your own experiences in motivating hesitant writers:

What are your experiences with journal writing? Do you have other ways in which you engage learners to start writing?

Have you used the Language Experience Approach with Adult Learners?  What tips might you share with peers about this strategy?


Have you recently found something interesting ‘in the news’? If so – let us know at

EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum Training Successes – Knoxville TN & St. Louis MO


This summer, Equipped for the Future (EFF) hosted two highly successful trainings on the Preparing for Work (PfW) curriculum for instructors in adult education and workforce development settings.  This skills-based curriculum is designed to model authentic, work-related experiences and activities that provide opportunities for learners to understand and apply key EFF skills. About the Curriculum

In May, an open registration PfW training was held in Knoxville, TN with Aaron Kohring facilitating. Twelve individuals representing programs/organizations in seven different states participated in the event.  During the training, participants created implementation plans using the curriculum not only for development of work readiness skills prior to employment, but also for skill improvement with incumbent workers. Several participants stated that they particularly appreciated the opportunity to try out curriculum materials ‘hands-on’ during training activities.

In August, Peggy McGuire was invited to facilitate a PfW training in St. Louis, MO for the staff of two programs of the St. Louis Public Schools: the Career Technical Education program for high school students, and the Fresh Start program for high-school dropouts seeking diplomas and employment. Training participants were charged with going back to their programs and sharing their learning with colleagues who did not attend, and to begin a planning process for curriculum implementation this fall.

Katie Lamb, a Professional Development Consultant with the Parsons Blewett Fund who organized and attended the event in St. Louis, says “All went so well with the training! We hope to support further needs for help with implementation…

Additional Participant comments:

This was well worth the time, effort and money we invested to participate. I appreciate how well organized and efficient the training is.  Knoxville

The facilitator did a fantastic job of engaging the audience…excellent organization and well planned, extremely relevant…this was one of the best training sessions!  St. Louis

Interested in the Preparing for Work Curriculum? Let us know!

EFF is now in the planning stages for another open-registration training on the Preparing for Work curriculum in Knoxville, TN on October 2 & 3rd, 2012. 

Please contact Aaron Kohring – – if you are interested in attending and/or sending instructors from your program/agency to this upcoming October 2012 training.

In the News: The Structure and Purpose of Algebra Instruction

Have you recently found something interesting ‘in the news’? If so – let us know at Here’s something we found that seems to be creating a ‘buzz’ in the adult education community:

Aaron Kohring and Donna Curry, EFF math content experts, note that the recent New York Times op-ed piece by Andrew Hacker “Is Algebra Necessary?” sparked a *lively* discussion over on the LINCS numeracy discussion list – they recommend that you hop over and take a look at it.

In particular, these quotes from the discussion stood out:

“Teaching math without algebra is like teaching science without the scientific method. [i.e.] ‘This is the way it is. Memorize it. No, I can’t explain how I know. This is what’s in the book, so it’s right.’ It might get you through the test, but it’s a long way from helping you understand how to use these powerful tools for your own purposes.”
Rachel Baron GED/ABE Instructor

I haven’t always been the mathlete that I am today, but math taught me to never give up, to try different approaches, to think differently about the problem I was working, and jubilation of finding a solution. Math has not depleted my brainpower but has given me more tools in which I am able to think more efficiently and effectively.” 
Brooke Istas, Moderator, LINCS Math and Numeracy List

“The study of algebra promotes forethought and planning, devising a systematic and logical process to derive a solution. Does this not apply in all aspects of life? I tell students that “algebra” is a planning system. When problems become more complex and require the execution of multiple steps in the correct order, we think it through and create the “plan” of execution which is the algebra equation. It is like a recipe.” 
Maureen Carro, Academic Learning Solutions

Now some might say that subscribers to a Math and Numeracy discussion list might be biased in favor of Algebra. Here’s a post Duren found on the blogosphere from a young bibliophile and professed ‘math hater’  — also in rebuttal of the NYT article: The Fear of Math.

In the EFF online mini-course Algebrafying Arithmetic: Developing algebraic reasoning with ALL learners Donna Curry addresses this issue of ‘algebra fear’ and the need to re-think algebra instruction:

“Rather than refer to ‘algebra’, we might want to talk about ‘algebraic thinking’ or ‘algebraic reasoning’ so that we understand that it is more than just about manipulating symbols. When we understand what algebraic thinking includes, we can more readily recognize how it is used in life. Algebraic thinking involves recognizing and analyzing patterns, studying and representing relationships, making generalizations, and analyzing how things change. It is about making predictions based on patterns or relationships, making decisions, and solving real problems. It is about creating models based on phenomena that occur around us.

If we want our students to be proficient in algebraic reasoning, then we may need to rethink how we approach math.

Algebra is often taught as an abstract set of rules for manipulating cryptic symbols – and many adults have learned to fear algebra because of it. Activities based on real-life examples, solved with concrete tools like [play] money or other manipulatives, can combat these fears.

Donna also notes that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) advocates for algebraic reasoning to be taught and learned at the very earliest ages (see graphic at right).1  This recommendation is echoed in all levels of the EFF Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate Performance Continuum for adult learners.

For more on this topic, we recommend the following NCTM resource on Algebraic thinking — cited in both the LINCS discussion and the mini-course: A Journey in Algebraic Thinking, by Cathy L. Seeley

SO – based on the original article and the various viewpoints expressed, what are YOUR thoughts on the importance of algebra? Is algebra useful to everyone in their daily lives or only for those continuing into postsecondary education?

Why teach algebra to our adult learners? What are some examples of algebra – or algebraic thinking – in YOUR daily life? Your students lives?

Comment and add your voice to the buzz!

To learn more about teaching Algebraic thinking in the EFF online mini-course,  Algebrafying Arithmetic: Developing algebraic reasoning with ALL learners contact us via

Post Contributor:

Donna Curry, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies

References and Resources

1 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Executive Summary: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, pp 3-4., Reston, VA

Teacher Stories: Making Connections and Sharing Successes

SO – since ‘launching’ EFFTIPS to the world earlier this week, we’ve gotten a dozen new subscribers (and a LOT of page views)!
Welcome, welcome to all!

One of the the purposes for this blog is to “…make connections among adult education practitioners implementing standards-based instruction and/or quality instructional principles. Well, this launch is certainly helping us connect!

Among our new subscribers is Kate Nonesuch, from Victoria, Canada. Kate has recently started a blog, Working in Adult Literacy, where she states:

I’ve been working in adult literacy and numeracy for more than twenty-five goal is to share everything I know about teaching before I retire.”

In reading her recent posts, we were struck by one, Not a Fairy Tale. In it she describes an incredibly patient process of waiting for a student to become comfortable enough in the adult education setting to finally overcome her fears and participate. After 3 months, the student began to both write and seek written dialogue on her writing with peers. While Kate states that there was no ‘fairy tale ending’ (because the student then moved away), Kate’s program may have, in truth, opened HUGE doors for this student, simply by patiently and politely persisting.

This story, in turn, connected with one from our recent pilot of the EFF online mini-course Line ‘Em up: Linear Functions – Graphs and Equations for ALL Learners. In a recent discussion post inside the online course, Donna Parrish, who teaches at Rogue Community College in Oregon, told this story:

In teaching an algebra focused class this summer, I have been using EMPower (Seeking Patterns, Identifying Rules, Thinking Algebraically). It has been a good learning experience for both the students and the teacher. There was one student who struggled with the ‘complete the table, describe the pattern in words, write an equation activity’ – I was afraid she would drop the class. She hung in there and when we did the ‘people seated at the banquet table’ activity* she worked and worked but never got the relationship or the equation written (only one out of the 15 students did). We spent several minutes talking about how students approached the problem and talked about just playing with the numbers, i.e., taking a stab at a statement or equation and testing it out.

The discussion was rich with comments like, “It probably doesn’t involve exponents because the number of people seated doesn’t grow fast enough.” We graphed the data and noticed that for every table, two people were added…so we could “forget” the specific points and go up 2, over 1 (slope intro!). Somewhere in the middle of all the thinking and talking, the girl who had struggled raised her hand and asked me to come to her. She had the correct equation – it was all fitting together for her! We celebrated and I danced. At the end of class she said that figuring that equation out had made her day, in fact, it was probably the best day she had ever had in school. Talk about having days made…wow!

One of the things that stood out to us in both these stories was patience. Adult educators need lots of patience – to allow their learners to ‘feel safe,’ to help them overcome years of anxiety and mental blocks, and, well, for many other reasons. For many of our learners there aren’t ‘quick fixes’ — connections come slowly. The other thing that stood out was the power of success. Making that leap — connecting with others and/or a concept — can be an AMAZING event in adult learners’ lives.

What about you? Do you have a success story where patience was key? Where ‘finally getting it’ was immensely powerful for an adult learner? If so, please share!

Post a comment and help us make connections and build this network of outstanding educators!

For more information about EFF online mini-courses, contact us via

*This activity lays the groundwork for thinking about functions and linear equations by asking students to discuss how many people can sit at different arrangements of banquet tables. They are asked to seek a pattern as 2, 3, 4 etc. square tables are pushed together to form a row. Students are first asked to talk it through, then to build an in-out table, and then finally an equation or rule that can be used to find how many people a given number of tables can seat.

Post Contributors:

Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

Donna Parrish, ABS/GED Instructor, Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, OR