Peer review is an important an beneficial step in the writing process if done effectively. The question then becomes how can you do it effectively? Today I’ll provide three examples: Checklists, Write Like a Reader and Paramedic Editing.
Why should you provide students with a checklist? First, checklists identify the key ideas/components/aspects that should be in a students writing. Second, providing students with explicit instruction increases the likelihood of them remaining on task. Basically, if you want students to be on task, make sure they know what the task is and how to do it (For a more complete discussion of using checklists, please see “Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning” by Kathleen Dudden Rowlands)
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While checklists are fantastic for global revisions (eg: Are there paragraphs? Does each paragraph have a topic sentence? Does each paragraph have one main idea?) they aren’t as good for evaluating the supporting details. That’s where “Write Like a Reader” comes in.
Write Like a Reader
If you’re like me, you hate writing “needs support” and/or “lacks evidence” on students’ papers. If you do this activity, you won’t have to (as much). Here’s how it works.
1) students write a paragraph in response to a prompt – if they are writing by hand, have them leave every other line blank (this will become clear later)
2) students pass their writing to the right
3) students then read the first sentence and write 3-4 questions they have directly after the first sentence. Students repeat this process (read the second sentence, ask 3-4 questions, read the third sentence, and so on) until they have finished the paragraph (This step works really well if people are writing on computers or laptops)
4) students return the papers/computers to author
5) the author looks at the questions asked by their partner and categorizes them as either:
- questions asking for details (who, what, when, where, how) or
- questions asking for reasons/justification (why)
If the student has more detail questions, they know they need to provide more support/evidence in the future.
If they have more why questions, they know they are jumping to conclusions and need to better explain their line of thinking.
6) The writer now answers the questions that were asked by the reader and edits their paper so as to improve cohesion.
If you have access to cloud storage, you do not need to physically pass laptops or tablets. Instead, have them write in Googledocs, Evernote or another platform. Additionally, having the peer reviewer type/write in a different color than the author draws attention to what needs to be done once the author gets their writing back.
One of the major benefits of this activity is it helps writers learn to be more critical of their own writing and not rely on assumptions and falling into the “you knew what I meant” trap.
Now that students have checked for organization and content, lets have them look for clarity.
The Paramedic Method
Instead of writing “wordy” in the margins, how about we teach students to be concise. How do you do that? Try Paramedic Editing.
I first came across the paramedic method on Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. Their instructions are as follows:
- Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into)
- Draw a box around the “is” verb forms
- Ask, “Where’s the action?”
- Change the “action” into a simple verb
- Move the doer into the subject (Who’s kicking whom)
- Eliminate any unnecessary slow wind-ups
- Eliminate any redundancies.
For example, a student might write something like this:
The point I wish to make is that the employees working at this company are in need of a much better manager of their money.
But after paramedic editing it will look more like this:
Employees at this company need a better money manage.
Once again, allow me mention that none of these activities will (most likely) be a smashing success the first time. However, and this is key, doing these activities repeatedly will create two benefits. First, students will begin to take more ownership of their writing by virtue of becoming more critical readers: it is much easier to edit your writing if you know what you should be editing. Second, by delegating some responsibility to the students, you are now free to provide more attention to those who need it and to spend more time creating quality lessons. Remember, you’re a teacher, not a copy editor.