In this activity, students examine multiple drafts of a published text. They identify the changes that the writer made between versions, and they hypothesize about the reasoning behind the changes. This activity helps students to recognize the writing process behind every text, including published and canonical pieces of literature. It draws their awareness to the craft of writing, and helps them to appreciate the choices that writers make in deciding what to say, and how to say it.
- Choose a published text for which you can find at least one early draft. Prepare to distribute all or part of the published text, plus the corresponding draft. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Sylvia Plath’s “Stings” are among the many works of literature of which earlier drafts are easily available.
- Teacher leads a brief discussion about the writing process, particularly the process of writing and revising multiple drafts. Class discusses how almost all published writers go through the same basic process, though with variety in the specific ways the
It might be useful here to share writers’ descriptions of their own writing processes, so students can appreciate the variety of approaches and the work involved in writing.
- Teacher distributes two copies of text to students. Students prepare 3-column notes. Students prepare to work alone or in pairs.The 3 columns should be labeled “Draft,” “Published,” and “Why?”The word “published” is preferable over “final,” to reinforce the idea that writing can always be continuously improved.
- Teacher models reading aloud from the top of the text, and making one row of notations in 3-column notes.
Read aloud just the first part of each text, until you identify the first, obvious difference between them. Record what the draft says in the first column, and what the published version says in the second column. For the third column, think aloud about why/how the author might have changed that portion of the text. Write an idea why the writer may have made that change in the third column.
- Students read the rest of the 2 versions of the text. They compete the 3 column notes with the differences they notice between the texts, and their hypotheses for why the writer would have made the identified revisions.
As students work, circulate among them. Help them to identify differences between the texts, and ask them about their theories why the author may have made the changes.
- Teacher leads students in a discussion about the two versions of the text.
Lead students in a discussion, analyzing the two versions of the text more broadly. Ask them to evaluate the benefits of each version. Ask them to hypothesize about why the author made the identified changes. Ask them how the meaning of each text is subtly distinct.
- Students reflect on their learning alone or individually, orally or in writing.
Students should respond to questions including:
- What does it mean to “read like a writer”?
- How can it be helpful to help you to think about the writing process as you read?
- How might this activity help you to improve your literary analysis skill?
- How might this activity help you to improve your writing?