The Language of Persuasion: Revision with a Purpose





“Control is a key concept to being strategic, and it implies conscious knowledge and use of tools throughout the writing process and from one written product to another.”               Deborah Dean in Strategic Writing



            Reflecting on my twenty plus years of education experience gave me a great deal to think about when considering the focus of my teaching demonstration.   Primarily a teacher of writing during this time, my instructional practices always focused on the writing process.  Well-versed in curriculum and standards, I planned for writing that was product oriented.  I created and shared assignments and rubrics with the students. I led them through the processes of brainstorming, supported them while they drafted, assigned and over saw their peer reviewing groups, struggled to get them to revise instead of edit, and finally watched as they wrote the final draft.   Following the cyclic nature of this type of instruction, page after page of editor marks made their way back to the hands of students who looked at the grade (and maybe the comments) then filed the assignments into their portfolios or notebooks.  I checked off another assignment; in turn, the students recorded what they had created on their assignment sheets. 

            Being a thoughtful and well-intentioned teacher, year after year I told myself that I would have my students review and revise their writing   I wanted to discuss how they could improve their products and discuss how their writing had improved over time.  Yet, another pattern would erupt: The portfolio was placed in the students backpack at the end of the year, and it went home.  In reality, more often than not, the portfolio would make its way into the recycle bin, and that was that.  The students had ‘processed’ with me, and I sent them off to their next teacher.  Another year of no follow through of my well-intentioned decisions. I was left unhappy with my teaching performance almost every year.  I had conducted plenty of writing with the students, but I knew I had not given the students time to reflect on their growth and their strengths.  I had only told them their areas of greatest need, for really I had only conducted revision through the process of editing and evaluation.  In all those years, I never once engaged in writing activities that were not directly related to a product being created.  I was solely focused on the content and the objectives that were to be met, and I didn’t have fun and play with language when writing.  Consequently, when choosing a topic for inquiry and the teaching demonstration, I chose the revision process. 


A Personal Paradigm Shift


“Trying new directions and different possibilities, retracing your steps and trying new ways, are all part of how deep revision works.”        Meredith Sue Willis in Deep Revision.

            Recently, I have read an abundance of literature that discusses topics such as the writing process, students and teachers as learners together, Writing Workshop, technology in the classroom, and the list goes on as evidenced by the bibliography.  It became clear that the common thread in most of the reading was the need for the writer to identify and design writing with the rhetorical situation in mind.  That is to say, the writer must be aware of the context that frames the writing, they must determine the genre that will be created, and choose the audience, the purpose, and the message for which the text is being designed. These conscious decisions allow the writer to purposefully apply the language needed to achieve the intended goal.  Further reflection on my teaching practices revealed that I have neglected to fully teach these necessary and interrelated ideas to my students.  It is with this revelation coupled with the desire to have a rich, student centered, and fun classroom ecology that I designed this teaching demonstration.  

            To explain, in her book, Strategic Writing, Deborah Dean shares her idea of the writer as thinker first, a concept that I will develop in the teaching demonstration.  She states that one cannot expect to write well if the thoughts, ideas, or skills are not there at the onset. (Dean, ix)  With the understanding that there is a difference between what Dean calls the Levels of Knowledge, defined as declarative, procedural, and conditional, the writer must consider the rhetorical strategies of language, what I have come to understand as the Language of Persuasion, when creating or re-crafting a piece of text.  In the book Digital Writing, the authors define this as Task Knowledge.  They state “This is the knowledge that writers must have about the processes and nature of writing, including ‘the role that audience and purpose play; strategies for developing a persuasive argument; ways of voicing different kinds of texts; and ways of identifying rhetorical situations that call for different voices.’” (DeVoss,et al, 109-110)  When reading further to support the premise of effective instruction through revision, I found Meredith Sue Willis’ book, Deep Revision, helpful in that it offered a vast array of activities that lead to what DeVoss et al refer to as “a new occasion for writing” to demonstrate how attention to and deliberate change to the language of persuasion affects writing. (42-43)

            Applying Fletcher’s work in Writing Workshop:  The Essential Guide, I plan to guide the participants through the revision process of transforming the children’s book, Heron Street.  The purpose for using a children’s book is that the audience for which this demonstration is designed is 6th grade students.  It is highly probable that the students would be able to decode and comprehend the text thus facilitating the focus to the rhetoric found within the book.   The objective is for the participants to be able to explain that when they revised the audience, the purpose, the message, and quite possibly the genre of the book that the book changed.  The deep synthesis I hope to occur, however, is that the students can verbalize not just how the text changed but more importantly what effect the changes had on the text.  It is my goal that after multiple sessions of instruction with this type of activity, students’ awareness of the language of persuasion will transfer to other writing situations, such as AIMS, district or school-wide tests, and that they will write using the best genre, to an audience, for the correct purpose, and with a full and clear message.        


“Quality in digital writing, as in all writing, can be assessed in various ways:  Does the piece achieve its intended purples?  Does it resonate with an audience?  Does it meet various accepted standards of performance for products of its type?”

 DeVoss, EIdman-Aadahl, and Hicks, in Because Digital Writing Matters




Common Core State Standards for

English Language Arts Standards


Grade 6


Range of Writing

W.6.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for  research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline- specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Production and Distribution of Writing

W.6.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

W.6.5. With some guidance and support from peers and adults,   develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.










Annotated Bibliography

Andrade, Heidi L, Du, Ying, and Mycek, Kristina. “Rubric-referenced, self-assessment and middle school students’ writing.”  Assessment in Education:  Principles, Policy & Practice 17. 2 May 2012: 199-214.  Eric. Web.  April 19, 2012.

            This study provides results that determine that middle school students are able to engage in self-assessment as a formative assessment process to improve their own writing.  Students formulated rubrics by identifying the effective attributes of exemplars.  With assistance from teachers, students created rubrics and followed the criteria when engaging in writing activities in a writing class.  The findings reported that classrooms can be transformed by using formative assessments.

Andrade, Heidi, Saddler, Bruce.  “The Writing Rubric.”  Educational Leadership.  62.2. October 2004: 48-52.  Academic Search Premier. Web.  April 19, 2012. 

            This article discusses the effects of applying rubrics with students who perform at different ability levels.  Author commentary places emphasis on creating a culture of revision as a means of peer and self-assessment that results in products that provide evidence of the Writing Process.

Banta, Trudy, Lund, Jon, Black, Karen, and Oblander, Frances.  Assessment in Practice:  Putting Principles to Work on College Campuses.  Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.  1996. Print. 

Using the Ten Principles of Learning to introduce multiple studies of student assessment, the authors present data to support how assessment can improve instruction and student learning within classrooms, departments, and institutions as a whole.  Of particular interest is the studies that support discussions with students to formulate or share criteria for success on assessment measures and how those discussions improved student learning as marked by data in student portfolios, observations of process behaviors when working with peers, discussions with instructors, and when working alone.

Branscombe, N. Amanda; Goswani, Dixie, Schwartz, Jeffrey.  Students Teaching, Teachers Learning.  Portsmouth, NH. Boynton/Cook Heinemann.  1992. Print. 

            The authors present shared inquiry studies ranging from elementary to graduate level classrooms.  Teacher behavior that focused on data gathering and discussion with mentors promoted action research to support the teacher as learner.  Particularly illuminating were two studies that applied shared responsibility of the students and the teachers when creating a meaning centered classroom.   Analyses of behavior changed and improved writing and instruction in both studies by using a constructivist approach.  The studies support the inquiry question that discussion of what good writing looks like then providing criteria for success, using rubrics and checklists improves student writing. 

Burke, Jim. The English Teacher’s Companion. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.  1999. Print.

            This text provides a general overview of instruction and curriculum support for a high school English class and explains the multiple facets of teaching.  Chapter 11 discusses assessment and the application of rubrics and checklists to assist with evaluation.  It supports the premise that providing students with the criteria needed to complete writing assessments assures that students have the opportunity to meet the requirements of the assignment.  The chapter suggests that instructors can provide formative assessments as part of the evaluation process. 

Dean, Deborah.  Strategic Writing.  Urbana, IL.  National Council of Teachers of English.  2006. Print.

Dean presents writing as a three-pronged, strategic approach.  She defines writing as having three levels: declarative, procedural, or conditional.  She states that each level has a purpose and control of each is necessary for writers to progress on the continuum of learning and application.   Discussion of instructional practices and strategies, such as prompts as rubrics, time away from written products to support revision, consideration of genres and audience in revision, and purpose when revising support the theory that process writing improves student writing and thinking processes.

DeVoss, Danielle, Eidman-Aadahl, Elyse, and Hicks, Troy. Because Digital Writing Matters.  San Franscisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.  2010. Print.

  The authors use the analogy of ecology to present the processes and describe the environment where writing and learning occurs as schools apply technology as an integral component of their instruction.  Particular attention is given to the community of consumers and information providers that technology has created.  Mention of the development of voice through revision is discussed in the context of the multiple modes and myriad of media for the transmission of the information students create.   Suggestions for professional development and cautionary advice to maintain effective and research-based pedagogy in a technology rich environment are provided. 

Fletcher, Ralph.  What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, 1993. Print.

            This text provides commentary on critical attributes of writing.  Fletcher includes a myriad of examples of how each attribute has been applied by providing examples of authentic student text.  Graphic organizers are presented with commentary to the instructor with suggestions how to apply instruction to develop student writing and strengthen voice, advance or slow time, develop character, beginnings, and endings, and provide a sense of playfulness and unforgettable language.  

Fletcher, Ralph and Portalupi, JoAnn.  Writing Workshop:  The Essential Guide.  Portsmouth, NH.  Heinemann.  2001.  Print.

            Fletcher and Portalupi present a clear and concise way to approach teaching writing by outlining the principles of Writing Workshop.  Multiple graphic organizers for the teacher are included as appendices and support the timeline to begin the year and implement the practices.  Particularly supportive of a constructivist, meaning centered classroom, the organization of Writing Workshop mini-lessons and writing intensive sessions encourage 1:1 conferencing with students yet promote short and focused daily mini-conferences with all students.

Mansilla, Veronica Bois, et al. “Targeted Assessment Rubric: An Empirically Grounded Rubric for Interdisciplinary Writing.”  The Journal of Higher Education.  80.3  May/June 2009: 334-353.  Academic Search Premier. Web. April 19, 2012.  “

            Researchers developed interdisciplinary rubrics to assess student work at the college level.  Although the findings primarily support the positive effects of the inquiry process and assessing interdisciplinary writing, the researchers provided commentary that supports the practices of instructing and applying rubrics with students to assist both student and teacher to determine areas of improvement or areas of need.  A final conclusion is that rubrics also provide opportunities for program changes for instruction. 

Turner, Ann.  Heron Street.  New York, NY: Scholastic.  1989. Print. 

Turner outlines urbanization and the effects over time on the habitat of animals.  Desimini engages the reader through illustration, and Turner entertains the reader using playful language in this remarkable children’s book. The third person narrative presents colonization, the Revolutionary War, and industrialization as the antagonists that transform a flourishing marsh and the burgeoning flora and fauna to a thriving city that has chased away the native wildlife and all but eradicated the flora of the land.  This book works well as an interdisciplinary text. 

Willis, Meredith Sue.  Deep Revision:  A Guide for Teachers, Students, and Other Writers.  New York, NY.  Teachers and Writers Collaborative.  1993. Print.

Willis fills this book with specific activities for student revision across grade levels.  Outlining a myriad of multi-step processes with a single written product, the reader as instructor is presented with several strategies to use with student writing.  Application of activities promotes a metamorphosis of student writing, within the classroom writing curriculum and instructional practices.  Consideration of everyday objects, art, nature, sounds, and other author’s writing are discussed as prompts for writing and considered appropriate for deep revision:  taking writing in new and different direction to revise it and change it yet retain the integrity and meaning of the original work.  This book supports the teacher who desires to apply strategies that shift the paradigm of revision as evaluation. 












ELA/ACCS Range of and Production/Distribution of Writing W.6.10., 6.4, 6.5




In the space below, write what you know about writing to persuade.








In the space below, write what you want to know about writing to persuade. 


Turn to your elbow partner and share what you have written. 


Put a check by the information on your paper that is the same as your partner.  You may use this information later in the demonstration.


Activity 1

Discuss the graphic with your elbow partner as it relates to the context of written text. 

Activity 2

Describe the graphic in your own words.  How are the parts interrelated? 









Activity 3a

In the box below, write down an example from the original version of the story that supports each aspect of the Language of Persuasion.  You will share your ideas with your elbow partner when we finish reading the text.


Genre:  Historical Fiction

Purpose:  Inform/Entertain

Audience: Children

Message: Humans have changed the environment and animals and plants have been affected.


Activity 3b List the evidence of the revisions to the text. 

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Purpose:  Persuade

Audience: Children

Message: Humans have changed the environment and animals and plants have been negatively affected.

Activity 4

In the box, tell what changes were made and how the changes of the Language of Persuasion affected the revised version of Heron Street.





Activity 5

In the box below, with your elbow partner discuss and list all the possible revisions that can be made to the language of persuasion in the book Heron Street.






A. Now, move into a heterogeneous group.  Your group is listed on the Power Point slide.  Write your team member’s names on the lines below. 


Name:  __________________________________________


Name:  __________________________________________


Name:  __________________________________________


B. Decide as a group what revisions will be made to the Language of Persuasion in the book Heron Street.


Write the two suggestions you gave to the group below. 

1.  ______________________________________________________________________


2.  ______________________________________________________________________



C. After deciding what revisions will be made to the Language of Persuasion, begin to rewrite the book with the changes.  Use the large chart paper to write your revision.  Post the chart up in the room when complete. 


Activity 6a

A.  Get a few Post-it notes.

B.  Circulate around the room and read the revisions from the other groups. 

C.  Place a Post-it note telling the group two things you like about their revisions. 


Activity 6b

In the box below, list what changes were made to another groups’ Language of Persuasion and how it impacted the book. 


What Language of Persuasion        What was the impact it

  was changed in the book?                   had on the book?






























Activity 7

Reflect on the process of today’s lesson.  In the box below, tell how will this help you in other writing assignments?