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Color-coding Revision - Visualizing the Process

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students use crayons to visually distinguish between elements of their papers
Image Credit: 

"Big Cup'O Crayons" via haydnseek's Flikr stream

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Following a detailed set of instructions, students use crayons (or other multi-colored writing utensils) to visually distinguish between certain elements of their papers. The result is a colorful paper that visually demarcates areas of text that may require revision.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Literature: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 




Required Materials: 

*Having attempted this exercise on computers, I highly recommend a low-tech approach. Using hard copies and forcing students to interact with the material pages themselves both allows for more freedom in marking up the papers and helps the visualization process.  Additionally, my students loved playing with crayons.

So, all you will need are:

  • hard copies of the papers to be revised
  • crayons, highlighters, or variously colored pens
Full Assignment Description: 

Students are asked to peer review each other's papers using crayons (my personal favorite tool) or other colorful writing utensils. Using three differently colored crayons, they look for very specific aspects of the paper to underline, circle, or cross-out.  The particular parts of the paper they should attend to are easily adaptable to an instructor's needs and the common issues arising in a given class.  The important thing is that students mark up the papers with different colors and different types of annotation.

This workshop is incredibly helpful to students who are more visually-oriented learners.  It is also an extremely helpful editing process for students to practice.  By giving them extremely detailed instructions and asking them to pay close attention to more minute aspects of their peers' papers, they often leave the workshop feeling more attuned to these issues in their own papers.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Adapt the workshop instructions to your own needs.  This is particularly helpful once you've already seen the students' writing and can gauge the issues that need addressing.  For example, in my rhetoric/composition class, I find that students often rely too heavily on quotations in their first papers (which involve a lot fo summary), so I have them underline all of the quotations.  This makes it immediately clear to most of the students just how much of their paper is quoted and how much is their own writing.  On the other hand, in my literature class my students might not be providing enough evidence from the text, so underlining quotations have the inverse effect of highlighting a paucity of quotation. 

My own teacherly pet-peeve is vague pronouns and distant referents, so this usually turns up regardless of the course I'm teaching. But as you'll see in the instructions below, it's fairly easy to tweak the worksheet to fit your needs.

Other than that, make sure to tell students to bring a hard copy of their papers.  It's also important to provide writing utensils in a variety of colors (at least three per student). I tend to bring a giant box of crayons to class - both because crayons are less expensive than colored pencils or other options, and because my students get a kick out of playing with crayons in a college classroom.

Instructions For Students: 

(You will probably want to re-format this before giving it to students, but for accessibility reasons, I am not retaining the original Word document's formatting)

This exercise is designed to help with the revision process by making certain aspects of your papers stand out visually.  For those of you that are visual learners this might be really useful in that it literally highlights the way you use language. For others of you this might just be an easy in-class exercise where you get to play with crayons. 

1.     Select three different colored crayons.  This will work best if they are distinctly different colors. 

2.     Assign each color a function by creating a color key here:

a.     PRONOUNS ___________________

b.     TOPIC SENTENCES ______________

c.     QUOTATIONS __________________

3.     As you read through the paper,

a.     With the color assigned to pronouns,

i.     Circle every: THEY, THEIR, THOSE, THESE, THIS, IT, ITS,

ii.     Cross out any: I, YOU, YOUR, WE, OUR, US, (and any contractions you come across ‘cause they shouldn’t be there either) 

b.     With the color assigned to topic sentences, underline the first sentence of every paragraph

c.     With the color assigned to quotations, underline every quote you come across (make a second line if quotes are used in the fist sentence)

4.     Once you have worked through the entire paper, go back through it a second time. Do the following exercises with a pen or pencil.

a.     For every pronoun you circled, identify the referent (i.e. who is the “they,” what is the “this” or “it”), and write your answers on the line below each pronoun.

b.     Read through each paragraph again, and in the margin write a few words identifying the subject of the paragraph.  Does the content match the topic sentence? If not, make a single, neat X across the entire paragraph.

c.     For each quotation, assess whether the quote is one of the following and label each quote accordingly:

i.     Rhetorically effective (i.e. uses powerful/evocative language) [RE]

ii.     Highly specific (statistics or technical language) [HS]

iii.     Could probably be paraphrased or seems unnecessary [PARA]

Evaluation Suggestions: 

As it's purely for the students' benefit, this assignment is not graded.  I simply use this as an in-class exercise and send them home with their marked-up papers.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

My students generally really enjoy this exercise - in part because I have them playing with crayons in a college classroom.  What I have found is that the actual process of doing the workshop is more helpful than the feedback they receive - so, in doing this to someone else's paper, it helps them to notice the trend in their own papers.  The exercise can be adapted to any number of common problems, these are just three things that my students tend to consistently have issues with in the first paper (no matter how much we've gone over these things in class).

I do think it's important to use hard copies of their papers.  I've tried this in a computer-classroom, and using highlighting in Word just doesn't have the same impact.  It also makes it more difficult to visualize all together and doesn't have the same tactile effect.

Course Description: 

This exercise will work in any course requiring writing and revision. I've used it in both rhetoric and literature classes, but it was originally designed for an introductory rhetoric class.

Rhetoric 306 is a course designed to introduce students to the principles of rhetoric, responsible civil discourse, and college writing.  Students are asked to select a contemporary controversy to explore through research, rhetorical analysis, and ultimately to advocate their own position.

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