This is a revision activity that I’ve had really good experience with over the years. It helps students think about precision in their own writing, and it also offers them a chance to critically read their peers’ writing. Normally, I’ll begin class with a short writing prompt that asks students to communicate specific information on this topic in approximately 12-14 lines. Next, I’ll have students pass their papers from one row to the next where they’ll read those 12-14 lines and re-write/revise them, so they communicate the author’s meaning in 7-8 lines. We continue passing, reading, writing, and revising until the original piece is transformed into a 3-4 line piece, and then the original author takes his/her paper(s) (with all the revisions) and re-writes the last 3-4 line piece in his/her own words---shortening it to 1-2 lines.
I find that this in-class exercise helps quell one fear many students have, which is if they cut their writing they simply won’t have enough to say to fill the page. Many student experience anxiety over meeting a minimum word-count or page-length requirement; the thought of eliminating 10 lines of text seems like a waste of time to them. However, cutting down someone else’s writing comes more naturally. Students easily recognize unnecessary words and ways to make an unruly sentence crisp and clear. I like this activity because it helps students see the benefit of “cutting down” prose. It may seem like your piece is getting shorter, but what they’re left with is a more coherent articulation of their original idea; a foundation on which they can build.