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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

Benchmark Numbers: Everyone Can ‘DO’ Fractions, Decimals and Percents!


How do your students generally feel about fractions? decimals? percentages? Do they moan and groan and say “I hate these” or “I can’t DO… (fractions, decimals, percents)”

How about yourself? How much do you enjoy computations and problem solving involving fractions, decimals and percentages?

A common challenge for many of our learners is their ability to work with a particular set of number concepts: fractions, decimals, and percents. Our learners have often developed ‘mental blocks’ to these mathematical concepts and even develop anxiety upon hearing the terms. Yet anyone entering an adult education classroom has already had years of experience in solving problems and mental math involving fractions, decimals, and percentages. Honest!

Think back over the past 24 hours. How often did you use fractions? Think about a percentage? Interact with a decimal?(other than as part of instruction)

Ok now, how often did you use or encounter the concept of  ½? 10%? .25? How about quarters, dimes or dollars?

Clearly, adults encounter and use these types of benchmark numbers every day in various facets of their lives – in their work, with their families, and out in the community. See if these examples sound familiar:

  • “Split that with your sister – each of you can have HALF.”
  • “I want to see a 100% team effort!”
  • “Thank you for shopping with us, you saved $3.75.”

Helping students to realize that they ALREADY SUCCESSSFULLY USE  fractions , decimals and  percentages is one way to combat anxiety and “I can’t” attitudes. Another recommendation is to incorporate activities using these friendly ‘fractional numbers’ into instruction with ALL learners – even those still learning their basic math facts.1 Note that these recommendations are not limited to adult education – the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics call for fractional concepts to be explicitly taught at the 3rd grade level, and introduced less directly even earlier (via telling time, comparing measurements, dividing shapes into parts, etc.). These standards also state: 

Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace.”  (CCSS-M Introduction)

Thus of course, as always, it is important to keep it REAL. Instruction should be based in everyday contexts that are meaningful to your specific group of learners. Here are some example contextual activities from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum that address fractional concepts:   A Typical Day/Time on Task

It is also important to note that many adult learners working at more advanced levels of math instruction may have an incomplete understanding of fractional concepts. They may have memorized a process, or algorithm, but cannot easily or readily apply it to real-world situations, or easily convert from fractions to decimals to percentages. Again, some work with basic benchmarks can help – even those who think they ‘know’ fractions, etc..

 Could your students easily move from ‘80 out of 100’ to ‘80 percent’ to ‘8 tenths’?Do they seem to confuse fractions, decimals and percentages or give up when asked?

In Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education (2010), Lynda Ginsburg emphasizes the importance of making connections among multiple representations of the same information – symbols, tables, graphs, etc.2   This idea applies to number concepts for fractions, decimals and percents as well.  Learners need instruction and practice in understanding the equivalencies between fractions, decimals, and percentages to deepen their conceptual understanding of these numbers. Activities that mix together fractions, decimals and percentages, and/or ask students to move from one representation to its equivalent (10% to 1/10 to .1) are effective tools for both assessing and strengthening understanding. Comparing Numbers is one example of such an activity (also from the EFF Preparing for Work Curriculum).

Please share with us your tips and tricks for helping adult students to understand number concepts relating to ‘fractional parts’ (fractions, decimals or percentages).
OR
Try out one of the ideas in this post, and let us know how it worked for your learners
(and you).  Below is one last resource to help get you started!

Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents – STUDENT BOOK – Lesson 5: One-tenth3 http://empower.terc.edu/pdf/Using_Benchmarks.pdf

We look forward to hearing from you and your class!


To learn more about teaching Benchmarks in the EFF online mini-courseHow Close is Close Enough?: Improving Estimation Skills  or in the EFF Preparing for Work curriculum, contact us via eff@utk.edu.


Post Contributor:
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Content and Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

 References and Resources

1 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics,  (2000) Reston, VA.   Pages 33-35

2 Lynda Ginsburg (2010); Algebraic Thinking in Adult Education  National Institute for Literacy, Washington, DC. http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/algebra_paper_2010V.pdf  (reference error corrected 7-27-12)

3 Using Benchmarks: Fractions, Decimals, and Percents Schmitt, Steinback, Donovan, Merson, & Kliman (2006) Key Curriculum Press, Emeryville, CA. http://empower.terc.edu/  (Part of the EMPower mathematics Curriculum developed at TERC)

Teaching Text Structure and Signal Words: A Key to Reading Informational Text with Understanding


How much ‘informational text’ do you read in a day? (as opposed to narrative/fiction reading)? Consider ALL the reading you do – including all the ‘incidental’ and ‘necessary’ reading (like billboards, headlines, package directions, blogs, e-mail at work, etc.)

How much ‘informational text’ do you think your students read? How much do they NEED to do in order to reach their learning and career goals?

Informational (or expository) text is the text we use to learn about something. For most of us, informational text forms the majority of the necessary reading and writing we do in a day.  As adults at home, at work, or in our communities, we are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding.

EFF LogoIn recognition of this, the EFF Performance Continuum and the Curriculum Framework for the Read With Understanding standard emphasizes the importance of students reading a wide variety of different kinds of materials for varying purposes, particularly in real-world contexts. This aligns with the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading which states:  Reading is critical to building knowledge in history/social studies as well as in science and technical subjects. …Students must be able to read complex informational texts in these fields with independence and confidence because the vast majority of reading in college and workforce training programs will be sophisticated nonfiction.

Yet research shows that informational text presents greater burdens to reading comprehension over narrative text. This can present a problem since so much of what we need and want to read as adults is, in fact, expository in nature.

What strategies do YOU use to read informational text? To make it easier to analyze and comprehend?

At home, at work, or in our communities, adults are constantly faced with informational text that we need to read with understanding. We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.

We all use a variety of strategies when trying to comprehend text. One strategy that might be especially helpful to us, and a strategy that we can teach to adult learners, is recognizing text structure.  Every informational text has a structure. Depending on what the writer of the text wants to accomplish with it – the writer’s purpose – the information in the text will be organized into one of several possible structures.

So for instance:

If writers want to focus on…  the text structure might be:
 Steps in a process or a logical chain of events …………………  Sequence
 Similarities or differences between two ideas ………………….  Comparison / Contrast
 The impact of an event or the reasons that something happened  Cause / Effect
 Details to elaborate on a topic …………………………………..  Description
 A way to resolve a situation, or a suggested course of action …  Problem solution

Skilled readers are able to identify the structure of the texts they are reading – even if they are not aware that they are doing it (since the more skilled a reader is, the more “automatic” this kind of behavior becomes). This ability helps to clue them in on the purpose of the text and to understand what they are reading more deeply. Teachers can explicitly teach students how to recognize and use text structure (as part of the process of reading that is described by the EFF standard Read with Understanding).

What approaches or strategies might you – as an adult reader –  use to recognize different informational text structures? What strategies do you teach your students to use?

An important strategy that writers employ to help readers understand their main points is the use of “Signal Words”. Signal words are the words in a text that suggest its structure.  Skilled readers use these signal words to identify and follow the text structure that the writer of the text intended. Let’s consider the most common kinds of text structure and some of the signal words used for each.  [Click on the image below to view the full-sized pdf document.]

But WAIT, here’s an important note to remember  (making things just a bit more complicated): While one particular text structure will probably predominate in any given text, other structures may also be present in that text. In other words, texts may include more than one text structure. You will need to assist students to determine the primary text structure for a document. If readers are aware of text structures, they can select strategies for reading comprehension that are likely to be effective.

Many readers need direct instruction to develop awareness of basic text structures. Teachers should provide explicit and systematic instruction in text structure, supported by scaffolding. Here are some practices that can be especially effective:

Suggestions for Teaching Text Structure via Scaffolded Instruction

Please share with us your thoughts on strategies for supporting adult learners in reading Informational Text – its importance both in and outside the classroom, how you address it, any ‘ah-has’ you’ve had, etc. Below are some questions to get you started:

  • What kinds of informational texts do you use in the classroom? How do you find and select informational texts to use with your adult learners?
  • What kinds of strategies do you teach your students to use when reading informational text with understanding? How do you teach these strategies (what examples or approaches do you use)?

We look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences.


Learn more about teaching Text Structure for Informational Text in the EFF online mini-course,
Using Text Structure and Graphic Organizers: Strategies to Enhance Reading Comprehension
or via other EFF professional development materials/services!


Post Contributors:
Peggy McGuire, EFF Trainer & Content Expert, Center for Literacy Studies
Duren Thompson, EFFTIPS Technical Editor, Center for Literacy Studies

FAQ: What is “Standards-based Instruction”?


From time to time, we address questions on key/core education concepts from adult education practitioners like you. These blog posts are collected on the EFFTIPS FAQ page for easy reference.

Question-puzzle imageEFFTIPS is designed to be a place for adult education teachers to learn and exchange ideas about implementing standards-based instruction and/or instruction based on quality instructional principles.

Q: But what exactly is “Standards-based instruction?” What do we mean when we say that?

In adult education, we feel that standards-based instruction starts from a BIG IDEA:  that the quality of the adult education services we offer is better when we focus teaching, learning, assessment, and accountability processes around the knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.

Thus one part of the answer to “What is standards-based education?” is this: Instruction that is structured around the content that people widely agree is most important to be taught, learned and assessed.  ‘Standards” then, are a set of clear and broadly understood descriptions of that content. You may also have heard some other phrases lately: “core standards,” “performance standards” “content standards,” “state standards,” etc.

So going back to our BIG IDEA, “Content Standards” for adult education must then DEFINEthe knowledge and skills that adults need to accomplish their goals in life.”

Q: But what is that knowledge? What are those skills?

Read the rest of this entry

Changing Our Math Practices: Moving Toward the Common Core Standards


Do you, like many adult educators, face challenges in the classroom when it comes to preparing learners to meet the math demands of daily life and to be college and career ready?

The Adult Numeracy Network would like to help!

During an all-day pre-conference Workshop at the National COABE Conference, the Adult Numeracy Network will bring adult ed practitioners together for a full day to focus on topics concerning the improvement of numeracy/mathematics learning and teaching. This year, the intent is for participants to delve into what the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics might look like when implemented in their adult education classes – at all levels.

While the Common Core State Standards were designed for the K-12 audience, they will be an integral part of the new GED test in 2014. In case you are not familiar with them, these standards for mathematical practice are:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments & critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model with mathematics.
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

As standards, each of the above skills can be implemented at ALL levels of mathematics instruction, and with many different math topics/procedures. ANN’s focus on this topic leads us to wonder:

   >  What standards or curriculum guides do you use in designing your math instruction?
Do you currently base instruction on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? The EFF
  Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate Standard? Something else?

   >  What does standards-based mathematics instruction look like in your classes?
How do standards help you face challenges in preparing learners to meet the math demands of daily life and to be college and career ready?

As two of our EFFTIPS math content experts – Aaron Kohring and Donna Curry – serve in leadership roles with the Adult Numeracy Network, we plan to bring back and share ideas from ANN’s COABE pre-conference session via this blog. In the meantime, however, we’d like to hear from you about the standards you use for mathematics instruction and how you implement instruction based on those standards.

Your experiences and comments are integral to this blog – please share!


COABE VAACE logo

The Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) is hosting their Annual Conference in Norfolk, Virginia April 9th – 13, 2012.

The Adult Numeracy Network Annual Meeting and Institute  will be held at COABE during a pre-conference session on April 10, 2012 from 8:30am – 4pm (lunch provided).

For more information visit: http://www.coabeinvirginia2012.org/pre-conference-workshops.html