Six-Trait Writing: It’s All About Revision

By Betty Hollas

Revision is a critical—yet often neglected—part of the writing process. It gives students an opportunity to reflect on what they have written, learn more about what good writing sounds like, and become better writers, readers, and thinkers.

Yet many teachers struggle with teaching the process of revision. And for good reason. Students must want to improve their writing—and often they don’t because revising can be messy and hard. They may not understand the language the teacher uses—comments like "Use better words" or "Clean up the grammar" can leave kids scratching their heads. In addition, students often lack the tools and strategies for undertaking fundamental revisions.

In this article, we’ll examine how Six-Trait Writing can solve the revision problem.

A structured way to teach revision

Six-Trait Writing is all about revision. In fact, five out of six of the traits deal with revision. Common Core State Standard #4 is also all about revision: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. Together, they provide teachers with a roadmap to helping students plan, revise, edit, and strengthen their writing, no matter what the text type.

This Six-Trait approach is a great way to start the revision conversation. It provides a common language teachers, students, and parents can use to talk about writing. It gives students a way to clearly see the difference between strong and weak writing. It also gives them tools for getting immediate self-feedback on their writing without waiting for the teacher.

There’s nothing magic about the Six Traits. Ideas make up the content of the writing, the heart of the message. Organization provides structure and a logical pattern to the ideas. Voice, the soul of the piece, makes the writer’s feelings come through. Word choice includes the use of rich, colorful, and precise language that moves the reader. Sentence fluency adds flow to the writing and makes it easy on the ear and eye. Conventions provide a level of correctness to the writing in terms of grammar, mechanics, form, and layout.

The magic of rubrics

What is unique—if not magical—about Six-Trait Writing are the rubrics. With rubrics, students have a scoring tool for each trait that lists the criteria for a piece of writing and clarifies what counts. Rubrics are powerful because they make a teacher’s expectations clear and show students how to meet those expectations. They also guide student self-assessment and help them spot and solve problems on their own. Students build skills gradually and systematically based on their knowledge of the Six Traits. This process is accelerated when teachers teach one trait at a time—focusing on one kind of writer’s problem makes the process of revision manageable and doable, for both teacher and student. The result is often significant improvement in the quality of student work.

With the Six Traits, even teachers who lack experience in teaching revision will gain the confidence to jump in and lead students through the entire challenging, but rewarding, process. As students grow as revisers and writers, the hard job of learning to write will become much easier.

For a deeper look at how to use the Six Traits to revise writing and meet Common Core standards, check out SDE’s webinar Six-Trait Writing for Common Core Success: Next Steps by veteran educator and author Betty Hollas.

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