Explanation of the Activity:
Students need to be taught that their first drafts--when the writing process is truly being honored--are not perfect or even close to being done. To achieve the best writing from students, a great technique is to have students write their rough drafts and put them away for a while as you spend some time talking about great writing from mentor texts; then, when they come back to the writing in order to start revision, don't allow them to look at their rough drafts at all. Starting over from scratch, especially with some fresh mini-lessons on writing in their minds, will almost always produce a better piece of writing. It's the kids who simply copy their rough drafts and make them neater who don't end up producing better writing.
It's tough to teach students to hide their own rough drafts from themselves and start over, isn't it? This pre-writing activity teaches them the habit of "rejecting" their own rough drafts and starting over from scratch.
Here's how the time travel draft idea works. Let's say you've talked about what the students will be writing, and you've established a purpose, perhaps even introducing them to your lesson's mentor text. Perhaps they've even filled out their graphic organizers to help them shape their rough drafts. Before they write their real rough drafts, say, "Two years ago, you weren't as good a writer as you are right now, I bet. You didn't know nearly as many skills as you do today. For fun practice before you actually write your rough draft, here's what I want you to do: write a rough draft of this story as if you were two years younger than you are right now. Just for fun. Don't focus so much on spelling words you didn't know back then; instead, focus on what writing skills you didn't know. We're going to call this your "time travel draft," and it's going to really help you write a better rough draft when we get to that step of the writing process."
Have students share (and laugh) at their time travel drafts, talking about what skills they didn't know about when they were two years younger. By discussing the missing skills as part of the pre-writing step, they will be more likely to include them when they write their actual rough drafts.
And...you've taught them the idea that sometimes the first draft needs to be totally rejected in order to produce better writing.
Mentor Texts to Complement this Activity:
Here are two great books you can share with students when introducing the idea of "time travel drafts." Both Jamie Lee Curtis's When I Was Little and Arthur Howard's When I Was Five demonstrate how children change significantly in just a few short years. After sharing either or both books, have students create a list of writing skills they didn't used to know but now know how to do and include in their writing.