January 2006

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Kyle Cushman

Bubbling: A different kind of revision strategy

By Kyle Cushman, Vermont College of Union Institute and University

Sometimes after reading a student's paper I know it's not holding together, but I'm just not sure why. Sometimes the student writer knows this too and we are both baffled. This is when it's time to get out a colored pen and start bubbling.

What the heck is "bubbling?" Bubbling is a great revision strategy which helps students to identify organizational problems at the paragraph level. Bubbling also helps students to improve the overall organizational flow of their writing. To use this revision strategy, students mark up their drafts by writing each topic they see in each paragraph in short 1-4 word phrases and circling them. For example, for this paragraph, I would write "What is bubbling?" in the margin beside the paragraph and circle it:

What is bubbling?

I will then have identified the single topic that this paragraph is based on. The result of applying this technique is a series of "bubbles" in the margin next to each paragraph. This helps students to see where there are too many topics in a paragraph or ideas that need to be brought together, as well as how topics flow from paragraph to paragraph.

In well-crafted prose, each paragraph is usually organized around one central idea or topic. In the course of the essay, paragraphs then flow from topic to topic in a clear, logical way. Sometimes when writing goes awry, it is simply a matter of paragraphs not being organized well. Like a crowded subway car, some paragraphs have too many topics crammed into them. Every idea is hollering for attention and the reader gets confused, dismayed and just wants to get off at the next stop. Or there are similar ideas dwelling in separate paragraphs which really need to be brought together to establish a stronger connection. Bubbling can show students how to revise to solve these issues and can also uncover disorienting topic jumps from one paragraph to the next which would then benefit from stronger transitions or a reorganization of paragraphs.

To experiment with the revision strategy of bubbling, and/or to teach your students how to use it, follow these steps:

  1. Print out your rough draft (be sure to include page numbers).

  2. Read each paragraph slowly and in the margin write down each topic covered in the paragraph, using a 1-4 word phrase, and circle it.

  3. Be honest! Write down every topic you actually included, not what you think you wrote or wanted to write. (This requires you to be completely present with the writing and see what is really there.)

  4. After you have done this throughout the whole essay or the section of the essay that you're concerned about, look carefully through the progression of circled topics. Ask yourself:

a. Does each paragraph have only one topic or main idea?

b. Are there any paragraphs that contain topics which are unrelated

to the main idea of the paragraph? (If so, it would be necessary to move an unrelated topic to its own paragraph or combine it with another paragraph where it would be a better fit.)

c. Is the same topic discussed in different paragraphs which are not consecutive? If so, how could you bring those ideas together?

d. Does each topic flow logically from one paragraph to the next? If not, how could you reorganize the paragraphs to improve the flow?

e. Do you need to add some transitional sentences to the beginning or endings of certain paragraphs to connect ideas?

Revising and reorganizing your writing with this information in mind will help you to create a stronger essay with a much clearer progression of ideas. Good luck!

Questions or comments? Contact the author at kyle.cushman@tui.edu.

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