Peer review has long been regarded as beneficial practice in the teaching of writing. In North American educational settings, learners are often asked to provide feedback on each other’s papers. However, when international students come to study either in intensive English programs or in institutions of higher education, they may encounter difficulties during peer review activities because many of them never had experiences with this kind of practice. As a result, students tend to give each other broad, irrelevant, essentially unhelpful comments.
This may be part of the reason that second language writers sometimes don’t take peer review activities seriously and/or disregard classmates’ feedback. Therefore, it is important that writing teachers equip students with the knowledge on how to provide helpful comments on each other’s drafts.
Modeling is one of the most effective pedagogical tools in teaching a foreign language, and we can certainly use it to teach learners how to give useful feedback. I would like to share two modeling activities that I implement in my writing classes to help students become more effective peer reviewers. In today’s blog, I will describe the first activity—which will teach students to thoroughly analyze someone else’s draft. In my next blog, I will share the second activity, which will focus on providing effective comments.
Activity 1: The Analysis Chart
- For this activity, you need to prepare a sample essay. You can also use one of your students’ drafts if they are comfortable with that. In some classes that I’ve taught, students didn’t mind me displaying their drafts for the purpose of teaching a particular principle or giving an example.
- Display the essay on the projector or give students paper copies. Whether or not I use a projector, I prepare paper copies for students, anyway, so they can take notes, highlight, underline, or comment if needed.
- Draw a three-column chart on the board. The first column is entitled “Strengths” or “What the author did well,” the second one is called “Weaknesses” or “What the author didn’t do so well,” and the title of the third column is “Changes to be made” or “What the author needs to improve.”
- Read the first paragraph and analyze it together with the students. Help them see the strengths of the paragraph. Many times, students have a hard time finding specific positive features of someone else’s writing, and they end up making general comments such as “It’s nice!” or “Good job!”. So help them see why this particular paragraph you are analyzing is “nice” or how the author did “a good job.” (Perhaps the paragraph has a sufficient number of supporting details, or the author uses a good variety of academic vocabulary, or the writing demonstrates a good command of grammar.) Write down these strengths in the first column.
- Continuing with the same paragraph, point out some of the weaknesses that the paragraph may have (or you can find them together with the students). Perhaps the paragraph displays lack of unity or syntactic variety, or the author did not provide specific or clear examples, or the paragraph lacks coherence. Write down these “weaknesses” in the second column of the chart.
- Still staying in the same paragraph, discuss with the students some of the improvements that the author needs to make in this paragraph. Share with the students some of your recommendations but also ask them what they think needs to be revised to make this paragraph more effective. Write down these ideas in the third column.
- Repeat the same procedure for the second paragraph.
- You can continue modeling this analysis for the rest of the essay, or you can put students in small groups and have them finish the activity on their own.
I usually encourage students to do a similar analysis with their own drafts. Most students find it very effective as they work on revisions of their drafts. As far as peer review goes, they learn how to notice both strong features of someone else’s writing and parts that need to be revised. Accordingly, students learn not only to make comments that contain recommendations or suggestions for improvement, but also provide feedback that points out a writer’s strengths.
My next blog will describe an activity that you can do to help students provide effective feedback on each other’s writing.