In my last blog, I shared a modeling activity that writing teachers can do to help students analyze each other’s writing and make more out of peer review activities. Today, I would like to describe a modeling activity that uses ineffective comments—ineffective feedback—as a pedagogical tool to teach students how to provide effective comments on their peers’ drafts.
Activity 2: Ineffective Comments
Just as with Activity 1, prepare a sample essay. Once again, you can use one of your students’ drafts if they are comfortable with that. However, because this activity requires analyzing a draft with ineffective feedback in the margins (including personal insults), I tend to avoid using my students’ papers.
In the margins of the draft, write several comments from each of the types above. The number of the comments depends on how much time you plan on spending on this activity, but I suggest that you try commenting on each paragraph of the draft.
Introduce three types of ineffective comments. They are:
- Overly general comments such as “It’s great!” “I don’t understand it.” “Good!”
- Overly specific comments—comments that focus on punctuation and minor mechanical errors
- Comments that contain personal insult, such as “This is lame!” “This is stupid!”
Provide examples for each of these types and help students understand why these types of comments are ineffective and even inappropriate.
Model for the Class
In class, display the sample essay with the comments on the projector and give students paper copies. As I mentioned in my last blog, I like to give each student a paper copy of sample drafts I use for my activities so they can use them as worksheets and mark them however they find it useful. Because the purpose of this activity is to demonstrate how ineffective comments can be transformed into helpful and effective comments, I recommend that you give your students paper copies, so they can make the necessary corrections during the activity.
Read the first paragraph and discuss the comments in the margins of the paragraph. Ask students to identify the type(s) of the comments (i.e., overly general, overly specific, or personal insult). Discuss why these comments can be considered ineffective in relation to this particular paragraph.
Explain and demonstrate how to change each of these comments to make them effective and useful. For example, the general comment “Your introduction is pretty good” can be changed to a more specific (and effective) comment “Your introduction has a strong thesis statement that makes your position easy to understand.” Go over the rest of the comments in this paragraph and revise them with the class.
Repeat the same procedure for the second paragraph.
Group or Pair Work
You can continue modeling this activity for the rest of the essay, or you can put students in small groups and have them finish the activity on their own by revising the rest of the comments.
After the demonstration, you can also do a similar activity as pair work. Divide students into pairs and give each student a short essay (each student in a pair receives a different essay).
Ask students to write several ineffective comments in the margins, and then have them switch the papers with their partner and revise the comments. After students are done with their revisions, have them discuss these changes with their partner.
Examples of Ineffective/Effective Comments
Here are some examples of ineffective comments that you can use for this activity:
- Your paper is nice.
- I don’t understand your point.
- This topic is boring!
- Change this!
- You have many spelling and grammar mistakes.
- Make this sentence better.
- Your paragraph is not in good order.
- Too many commas are missing!
- You are expressing your ideas like crazy.
- This is stupid.
Examples of effective comments:
- Your paper has a strong thesis statement and you provided examples that are easy to understand.
- This idea does not seem to be clearly expressed. Perhaps you can provide more specific examples of __________ to better illustrate the point you are making.
- The topic seems a bit too general. Perhaps you should focus on one particular aspect of it, such as _________.
- I suggest that you provide specific evidence here. How about___________?
- Remember that sentences in a paragraph must be on the same topic.
- Your conclusion has only one sentence. What insights could you add there to make it stronger?
- The idea expressed in this topic sentence needs more support. For example, you say that private education is expensive, but you provide no examples to support this claim.
- That’s a very interesting and helpful example, and it illustrates clearly the point that you are making.
Hope you find this activity helpful. If you have other ideas how to help students become better peer reviewers and teach them how to provide effective feedback, feel free to share your suggestions!