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Teaching Guide: Using Student Peer Review

Teachers frequently use student peer review to increase the amount of feedback students receive on their writing and speaking assignments. Choose any item below to learn more about how to integrate peer review into your classroom:

Planning for Peer Review Sessions

Peer review is excellent way to enhance your students' writing experience. Below are some ways to make the most out of a peer review session:

Think about logistics

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The logistics of peer review are generally simple, but they do require some forethought. If you want students to read papers in a round-robin exercise or to exchange papers with one other student, you don't need to require any photocopying. But if you want each student to read three other papers, make sure you remind students to bring three copies of their papers to class on the day of the exchange.

You can let students pick their own peer-review partners or group members, but you might also consider assigning peer reviewers based on your knowledge of students' writing and editing skills.

If you hold in-class peer-review sessions, circulate during the session to make sure students are on track and to intervene as necessary. Also, save a few minutes at the end of the session to discussion common problems with the class as a whole.

Specify tasks for the peer review

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Even if you decide to let students do an "open" review (in which they imagine themselves as members of the target audience and give "reader response" reactions), make that task clear as you set up the peer-review session.

If you want to have students review particular features of a paper, make sure that those tasks are clear and precise. Although you can list tasks on the board, students often prefer a worksheet that notes specific tasks. If students can write their commentary on a word processor, they are likely to write more extensive comments, so take advantage of computer supports whenever possible.

Model how to use the workshop sheet or criteria list before peer review

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Although most students will have had experience with peer review in writing classes in high school and freshman composition, students can still benefit from understanding each teacher's expectations of the peer-review session. One of the most effective techniques is to provide a sample student paper (either as a handout or on overhead transparencies) and to elicit class comments on each point on your workshop sheet. Teachers can then elaborate on points students bring up or clarify what writing skills the points on the workshop sheet are designed to help students review.

Consider sequencing the peer-review tasks in multiple workshops

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If you want students to look for particular features of a paper, try having them do so in a step-by-step fashion. Students often feel most comfortable moving through a sequence from simply identifying a feature, to evaluating it, to suggesting revisions. Particularly if you give students multiple peer-review opportunities, keep this sequence in mind. Create each workshop sheet so that it builds upon the prior one. And as you design these worksheets, label each level of task clearly so that students know if they are to identify or suggest revisions as part of a given peer-review session.

Provide adequate time for students to conduct thorough peer review of drafts

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The longer the paper or the more complex the criteria, the longer students will take to complete a thorough peer review. If you assign shorter papers, you can easily devote a part of a class to peer review or ask students to complete the peer review outside of class. But if you assign long, complex papers, consider breaking the peer review into several short chunks. For instance, students might complete one peer reading looking just for problems with focus, another for weaknesses in organization and development, and still another on graphics. Finally, students might have one or two additional peer-review sessions devoted exclusively to mechanics.

If you're concerned about taking so much class time for multiple peer reviews, consider the alternatives outlined under "Do I need to give students class time for peer-review sessions?"

Helping Students Make Effective Comments

The least helpful comment to receive from a peer reviewer is "It looks OK to me." We want students to find strengths or positive features in a draft, but we need to encourage them to be as specific as possible, both about strengths and weaknesses.

Model Effective Commenting

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As you model how to give effective commentary in peer review, remind students of the following points:

Build in incentives for helpful comments

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If students don't see the value of peer review, they are unlikely to spend much time reviewing others' papers or to take peer advice seriously. The most effective way to encourage students to take peer review seriously, both as the reviewer and as the writer, is to include effective peer review as part of the overall grade for the paper. Skimming peer review comments will take just a few minutes (even for multiple reviews of complex papers), and you'll quickly see which students provided the most helpful commentary. Alternatively, you can ask students to rank their peer reviewers and base the peer review part of grade on peer ratings.

If you're uncomfortable weighing the quality of peer reviewing in the paper grade, consider dividing the course grade to include a separate class participation or peer-reviewing grade.

Frequently Asked Questions about Writing Across the Curriculum

Remind students that they are responsible for the final drafts they submit to you, but that they should carefully weigh each comment they receive from a peer reviewer. Comments that suggest radically different revisions of the same part of a paper generally help writers see various ways to revise but may confuse students about what to do. Students need not choose one of the suggested revisions, but they should note that multiple suggestions pointed at the same part of a paper typically highlight a place where some revision is necessary for readers.

Resource: Sample workshop sheets

Five sample workshop sheets are provided:

Sample Assignments

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Arguing Essay Worksheet 1: Composition 2xx

 

Writer's Name:_____________________

Editor's name and phone number:_____________________

The primary purpose of this worksheet is to insure that the writer has developed a convincing argument. Imagine, then, that you are the writer's opponent (and so be sure to identify the target audience). Try your best to spot the weaknesses in the essay you are reading. In effect, you will be helping the writer to make sure that s/he has a convincing argument BEFORE it is submitted in the portfolio.

  1. Read the essay once and record your first impressions:
  2. If there is a thesis or claim, what is it?
  3. Any suggestions for improving the thesis or claim?
  4. What are the writer's main supporting arguments?
  5. a.

    b.

    c.

    d.

  6. What counter-arguments does the writer refute?
  7. a.

    b.

    c.

  8. What counter-arguments can you think of in addition to those above? (Remember, you are the writer's opponent.)
  9. a.

    b.

    c.

  10. What can you suggest about reordering or beefing up arguments?
  11. Any last advice before the writer goes on to the next draft?

Sample Assignments

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Worksheet for portfolio 2: Composition 2xx

Writer:_____________________

Reader: ________________________

Reader's Telephone Number: _____________________

 

Ask the writer what questions or concerns he or she has about the paper. Read the paper carefully and respond to those points before you complete the rest of this worksheet.

  1. Note here the audience for the paper you're reviewing. Be as specific as possible. If the writer has not targeted a specific audience, brainstorm together for ways to specify the audience.
  2. What is the focus of this paper and why is that focus appropriate for the target audience?
  3. Is the claim adequately focused--narrow within manageable/defensible limits? Why or why not?
  4. Do you feel the writer needs to add any qualifiers or exceptions to avoid over-generalizing the claim? If yes, explain.
  5. Are the writer's reasons sound in logic, and do they follow logically from the claim? Why or why not?
  6. Can you think of any additional refutations the writer could add?
  7. Where has the writer used effective evidence or detail? Where might the writer include more evidence? (Also, take a moment to jot questions on the paper that would help the writer see where and what detail to add.)
  8. Is the paper interesting to read? Why? (If you see gaps in the information provided, be sure to point out those gaps to the writer.)
  9. Has the writer cited appropriate and unbiased sources of information? Are quotations integrated into the text? Are the citations clear? Do you see any places where the writer needs to cite a source but now doesn't? Point those out to the writer.

Sample Assignments

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Final Workshop for Portfolio 2: Composition 2xx

 

Read the paper carefully and answer the following questions.

  1. What is the purpose of the paper?
  2. Who is the designated audience for the paper?
  3. How has the writer presented appropriate background information or accounted for bias on the part of the reader?
  4. What more could the writer do to get and keep the reader interested in the paper?
  5. Where might the writer add additional detail or flesh out an argument? Suggest specific additions that would help the writer meet the goal of the paper.
  6. Take any one paragraph and revise it for clarity and conciseness. Suggest other paragraphs that could benefit from the same revisions.
  7. The strongest part of this paper now is_____.
  8. The part of the paper that still needs work is_____.
  9. If you have time, note significant proofreading problems on the draft.

Sample Assignments

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Style review of drafts for Portfolio 2: Composition 2xx

This workshop sheet will help you attend to stylistic matters as you polish close-to-final drafts. If the writer needs to make major changes in content or organization, do not use this sheet. If you notice stylistic matters that this sheet does not address but that the writer should work on, be sure to discuss those with the writer.

Writer:_____________________

Reader: ________________________

Reader's Telephone Number: _____________________

  1. Note here the audience for the paper you're reviewing.
  2. Now read the paper completely before you answer the remaining questions.
  3. What suggestions can you make for a stronger opening for the paper? Be sure to discuss a range of possibilities for the target audience or publication.
  4. Does the conclusion of the paper provide closure for the reader? Are you left dangling? Or are you offended by reading a summary of a short paper that you can clearly remember? Suggest improvements.
  5. Has the writer used headings to indicate major chunks of the paper? Would headings improve the reader's ease in following the logic or flow of the paper? Suggest specific changes.
  6. Does the writer use adequate transitions between and within paragraphs? If not, suggest specific revisions.
  7. Has the writer integrated appropriate visuals? If not, suggest places where the text would be supplemented or complemented by a graphic.
  8. Has the writer relied too often on short or simple sentences? Do you, as a reader, perceive adequate sentence variety? If not, choose a paragraph that seems particularly repetitive and work on sentence combining for greater variety in sentence length and structure.
  9. As you read through the paper, did any words, phrases, or sentences "sound" funny to you? We often "hear" mistakes that we cannot necessarily label. Circle any words that don't sound right. If you cannot suggest a way to fix the problem, be sure to ask me.
  10. Has the writer used precise language throughout the paper? In other words, has the writer chosen exactly the right word to convey his or her meaning? Choose any one paragraph and work on substituting more precise language appropriate for the audience.
  11. Has the writer used more words to convey an idea than he or she needs to? Pick out any paragraph and work with the writer to remove deadwood. Then be sure to point out where else the writer might prune the text.

Sample Assignments

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Workshop Sheet for Summary: Composition 1xx

Writer's Name: ___________________________

Editor's Name and Phone Number: ___________________________________

Read through the paper completely before answering any of the following questions.

  1. 1. Has the writer noted the author and title of the essay being summarized? YES NO
  2. 2. Has the writer included a clear restatement of the author's main point? YES NO
  3. What other points that you don't see here should the writer include for a thorough summary of the article?
  4. What, if any, key examples or details should the writer add to the summary?
  5. Does the summary follow the organization of the original essay? Would a different arrangement be easier for a reader to understand? Suggest revisions.
  6. Has the writer maintained objectivity throughout the summary? If you see places where the writer's opinions or reactions are creeping in, please bracket those for the writer to attend to.
  7. Suggest revisions to reduce bias created by word choices.
  8. Where might the writer use additional author tags to help the reader?
  9. Mark any places in the draft where you have trouble reading and note whether a transition, clearer wording, or additional detail would help most.
  10. Where can you suggest other specific improvements in the summary? (Please refer to the criteria on the earlier handout for other possible points to revise.)
  11. What concerns does the writer still have about revising this summary? What can you suggest to help the writer?
  12. What's the most effective part of this summary?

Additional Resources

WAC@NIU ( http://corn.cso.niu.edu/acad/english/wac/resourfr.html) has additional samples of peer critique sheets under "Peer critique guides."