Lesson 8 - Writing Techniques for Adult Basic Education (ABE) Learners Illinois State Library

Paragraph Writing, Revising and Editing

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Writing is a communication process that includes composition, revision and editing. Free writing is the first step in composition. As an adult learner becomes more proficient at writing, they will work with their tutors to learn revision and editing.

Paragraph Writing with Prompts

Another strategy to use when working with learners in paragraph writing is to use visual prompts or prompt words. For visual prompts, collect magazine pictures on a variety of subjects. Ask the learner to choose and write about one picture.

For prompt words have the learner describe an activity they have done or have seen done in steps such as what they do in the morning or how they get to the tutoring session. Use prompt words such as "First, Then, Next, Then, Also, Finally." Have the learner dictate a sentence to you for each prompt word. When complete, have the learner read the paragraph to you and then write it. It may be necessary for you to assist the learner several times until they can do this independently.

Writing Strategies - Reflective Activity

Take a minute to think about the writing strategies described and answer the following question.

You have been introduced to copying, controlled writing, semantic webs, and writing from a trigger event or with prompts, to name a few techniques. Choose one strategy that you feel you could use in a tutoring situation. Imagining yourself in a tutoring session, describe how you would use the technique, with what type of student and what you would hope the learner would achieve through your use of that strategy.

Compose an email to your trainer. Put the title, Writing Strategies - Reflective Activity in the subject line. Copy and paste the question into the body of the email. Then type in your answer and send it. Completing this assignment is a requirement of your training. Your trainer will respond to you through email.


While doing Free Writing and even Language Experience or Trigger Event pieces, the learner/author is only concerned with expressing his or her own thoughts. In the revision stage, the writer "re-sees" his or her own writing and goes over it to assure that it says what the writer intended.

Beginning writers may not be able to revise in the usual meaning of the word, and will often add onto their piece. Writing several drafts may be too much for them. However, beginners, when asked to reread their pieces sometimes spot where they've left out a word or may be able to fill letters in blanks left for words when they go back over their pieces. This is also considered revision.

Revising is not editing and should be done by the writer/learner.

The writer may want to modify the writing to accommodate the target audience. If the writing is to go public and if it is to communicate effectively with someone else, it must take into account the needs, interest and biases of the intended readers. During the revision stage, the writer focuses on organization, development and tone.

The best way beginning writers can learn to predict audience reaction is by directly observing it. In addition to observing the tutor's reaction, they can exchange writing with their peers and observe their peer's reactions.

For intermediate and advanced learners, they may want to learn how to do inserts, arrows and strike-outs rather than rewriting the whole piece. Access to a computer word processing program is helpful for cutting and pasting and for seeing the work in print.


Editing is the final stage of writing for the public. Editing involves polishing mechanics such as spelling, grammar and punctuation. Encourage the learner to do as much of his or her own editing as possible. If grammar is a problem, you may ask the learner to draw lines under the places where the language does not sound right, then provide assistance. This way, the learner sees how conventional punctuation, spelling and grammar are used to provide meaning.

Editing and revising are both advanced skills. The tutor should help the learner understand that their ideas and feelings have merit in and of themselves. However, if a learner's written expression is to have the intended impact on the audience, the work must be in a form the audience understands. Proper mechanics increase an audience's understanding.

Talking with Learners about their Writing

The tutor and the learner will want to discuss the piece of writing. The tutor can give helpful, specific feedback such as, "I liked the way you began with …", "Using the word ... made your meaning very clear," or "I enjoyed it when you repeated the word ..." General, vague comments such as "I liked it" or "That was nice" are not helpful to the learning process.

In addition, there are other questions that you can ask about a piece of writing that will teach your learners to ask questions of themselves as they work toward becoming proficient writers. Questions like " What part do you like best?" "What part isn't clear to you?" "Is this piece finished?" "Where is this piece going?" "Does this piece say everything you wanted to say?" will help the writer/learner evaluate his or her own writing.

Portions of this lesson on "Writing" were adapted with permission from material developed by the Literacy Assistance Center, 32 Broadway, 10th Floor, NY, NY 10004.