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Using Peer Editing Effectively in English Classes

After over 20 years of teaching college English, VirginiaLynne loves to share tips, teaching plans, and information about the profession.

Over my 20 years of teaching, I've discovered that students learn a lot from seeing the work of their peers. Peer editing helps students to see their own errors as well as giving them help from other students.

Why Peer Workshops Are Important

Student writers who work in isolation with only teacher examples through lectures don't always get the feedback or examples they need to push to the next level of writing. Because peer workshops make all students get involved, they learn more. In addition, students are often more motivated by the approval or disapproval of peers to work harder on their papers. My own daughter, who is now taking First-Year English from another instructor at my college, just told me that she had both teacher and peer editing, and the peer editor gave more help. I know that as a teacher I do not have time to give an hour of editing to each paper, so peer editors can often find more errors.

When students read essays by a peer they don't just help that student improve, they also get ideas to help them re-write their own paper. Sometimes, they simply get ideas for more effective structuring, or if they have not written a good outline, they will see how other students did the work and have a better chance of doing their draft correctly.

How I Use Peer Workshops

I use peer editing throughout the writing process. When students bring in just their introduction or their beginning ideas, I have them work in pairs to talk over what they are thinking about. During a writer's workshop for a full draft, I have students work in groups of 4-5. That generally lets each student get at least two peer edits during a class period, and gives a little leeway in case that group works more quickly.

Sometimes I allow students to form their own groups, and other times I number them off or give them numbered cards that form them into groups. If they are working on a similar topic, I sometimes will group them by topic. When I want to make sure that the groups are different each time, I will sometimes make a list ahead of time. Turnitin, the plagiarism checker, and grading program will let students upload drafts and then randomly pair them with someone else in the class to peer edit.

I have inevitably found that all of the students get better at giving feedback as the semester goes on, and students that have my class for both semesters are really quite expert editors by the end of the year.

Exploratory Paper.

Exploratory Paper.

Peer Workshop for Outline

Before my students actually write their paper, I find that it helps to have them talk the paper out first in small groups. Their homework assignment is to write an outline of their paper and to be ready to share in class. I put them in groups of 3-5 and instruct them to share their outlines one at a time. They are given the worksheet below to use as they share.

After they have shared in small groups, I have a few of the students share with the whole class. This gives me an opportunity to give feedback and instruction. It also allows me to have a quick evaluation of how well the class is doing and whether they are prepared to start writing.

Peer Editing Worksheet: Outline

Take turns in your group having each person share their paper using their outline. Then the group can respond with questions, comments, and suggestions. Some things to consider:

  1. Is the introduction interesting? Do you feel you understand the issue and the question?
  2. Do the question and the three positions match up? Is there a contrast in the positions? Are there other positions you think need to be considered?
  3. Is the context/constraints of the question clear?
  4. Is there other supporting evidence you can think of?
  5. Is the response interesting? Does the author respond to the ideas and connect them with their own thoughts and/or experiences? How can they do that better?
  6. Anything you think is missing or needs to be explained or expanded?
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Peer Editing Drafts

After the students have discussed their outline, they are ready to write their full draft. A "full draft" is defined as a complete paper with an introduction, body, and conclusion. I ask them to bring 2 copies of their draft to class, one for me and one for their peer editing. On the copy for me, I ask them to do a brief self-evaluation:

  1. What is done well on your paper?
  2. What do you need help with?

While the class peer edits, I go through the papers quickly and try to answer any questions or provide help. Sometimes, if I don't finish, or realize that a student needs more instructions from me, I will email after the class. I've found that this quick "check" of the draft can often prevent a student from failing the paper because of not understanding the directions.

While I am looking through the drafts, the students gather in groups of 4-5 and are given a worksheet like the one below, which is for Exploratory Essays. Each worksheet I use is designed to help students look for the specific components required in that type of essay, which helps to reinforce what they need to write.

I instruct students to write on their own paper any question they have for their peer editors. The students use a separate draft worksheet for each essay that they complete and are instructed to edit at least 2 papers.

Peer Editing Worksheet: Draft Exploratory Essay

Writer:

  1. Underline: your question, the three positions, your position
  2. Wavy underline: author tags and citations.

Write (at top of draft or on a separate sheet of paper):

  1. What is best about your paper.
  2. Questions you have for the peer editor.
  3. What you want them to help you with.

Peer Editor (put your name at the top of the draft paper—editor #____________)

I. Read the paper and make marks on the draft about:

  • grammar and spelling errors
  • what you think is good
  • where they need more support
  • where they need better transitions
  • where they need references, citations or author tags (or any problems with ones they have)
  • where they need more explanation or description

II. On a separate sheet of paper write:

Intro:

  1. Is the issue both defined and described?
  2. Anything that needs to be added?
  3. Was the opening interesting?
  4. How could it be improved?

Body:

  1. How well does the paper examine the rhetorical situation? (exigence [reason for this debate]
  2. audience [who is interested in this issue]
  3. constraints [situations and attitudes which affect the debate])
  4. Is there any part missing? How can it be improved?
  5. Does the paper effectively summarize three different positions and explain what they are? Who believes them? Why do they believe it?
  6. Does the paper give enough evidence for each position?

Conclusion:

  1. Does the author respond to the issue and give an interesting perspective?
  2. Does the author need to add anything?

III. Editing 2nd and 3rd paper

When you finish peer editing your first paper, then do a second peer edit and a third if you have time. Put your name at the top of each paper as editor #2 etc. On a second edit, go ahead and read the other editor’s comments and add what you think would be helpful.

Peer editing helps students compare their work to others and learn.

Peer editing helps students compare their work to others and learn.

Writer's Workshop Peer Response

I started doing "Writer's Workshop" whole class peer editing because I realized that some students often had excellent comments on student papers, but other students did not have very well-developed editing skills. Writer's Workshop allows students to learn from each other how to evaluate papers, along with allowing me to instruct students within the context of an actual student paper from their class.

Writer's Workshop happens on the day that we turn in final drafts. The students who read for the workshop are given not only the extra editing help but more time (until the next class period) to finish their paper. I generally ask each student to do Writer's Workshop once during the semester and have a signup list of 3-4 students for each essay. For students who have anxiety in reading in front of others, I offer to let someone else read aloud but because I offer a very supportive environment, I do not often have anyone take me up on that offer.

During Writer's Workshop, the students stand up in front of the class and read their papers aloud while the others read along using the extra copies I have asked them to bring. As the student reads, their peers write comments on the drafts (or on quarter sheets of paper if they have forgotten the extra drafts). Afterward, I lead a short discussion of these two questions:

  • What is well done on the draft?
  • What could be improved?

These two simple questions are usually all that is needed to get the class to give positive and constructive feedback. I usually give my comments at the end, being sure to also notice anyone whose peer editing ideas were very good. Sometimes, at the first Writer's Workshop, students are a bit reluctant to speak, but I've definitely noticed that everyone in the class gets better at editing as a result of this class instruction. I know that I've accomplished my goal when, after listening to the student's comments, I have to tell them I have nothing to add because they've said everything I wanted to say!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Byron Crosby on August 20, 2017:

Thank you for the new outlook on peer editing

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 11, 2012:

Welcome to Hubpages Kittyjj! There are lots of people here on Hubpages that are so helpful in giving ideas and writing help. Also, the Hubpages learning center is terrific.

Ann Leung from San Jose, California on February 11, 2012:

Great ideas! I am learning to write and definitely need other people's help to edit my works.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

Glad you liked them Joan. I'm hoping they help other English instrutors.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

Thanks Kimberly!

Joan Whetzel on January 31, 2012:

These are some great ideas.

Kimberly Lake from California on January 31, 2012:

Thank you sharing your knowledge and insight. This is an interesting article. Socially shared.

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