Shelley Reid .

Shelley's (Quick) Guides for Writing Teachers:
Full-Circle Peer Review

Ok, this one's not so "quick." But if you're stuck in a rut with peer review, or you've never tried it before, or you tried it but decided that since students didn't benefit from the comments they got, the exercise wasn't worth your class time, you may find that by re-seeing peer-review as an assignment in and of itself, and taking some of the steps below, you gain a more positive perspective on the task.

This document outlines the following steps to enhance your work with student peer review of each other's writing:

Consider a range of purposes for peer review

Adapt peer review to your teaching situation

Adjust the peer review process to match your classroom goals

Adjust the peer review process to match your assignment goals

Analyze your audience to increase peer review success

Teach key reviewing skills

Teach or coach key revision skills

Elicit response and reflection about review and revision

Go full circle: Take time for pedagogical reflection

Compendium of Shelley's Peer Review Assignment Prompts (PDF)
(Ok, you can have your dessert first! But don't just download these examples without at least skimming the rest of the document, so you know how to adapt them to your own teaching environment!)


1. Consider a range of purposes for engaging students in peer review, and assess whether peer review time was "worth it" in regards to many possible benefits

It's easy to become discouraged after a peer review session: student writers rarely provide the kind of feedback to one another that we hope they will, at least not at first, and they don't often use the feedback that they do get.

If we assess peer review based solely on the purpose of "having students give each other accurate, useful feedback and then writing better essays," we are likely to feel the time spent has not been successful. But peer review, like other collaborative, active learning events, can accomplish a wide range of goals, many of them totally unrelated to the quality of student comments.

Which of the following goals might benefit your students or your classroom? Can you design (and assess) a peer review session based on some of these purposes?

Engage students in conceiving of writing as a communicative process

Writers prepare an early draft (and have at least an opportunity to rethink and/or revise)
Writers imagine that someone besides "the teacher" will read it
Writers come to see review as a normal and valued part of writing

Help students understand writing as a constructed (not muse-given) event

Writers see peers' versions of the assignment
Writers learn to question the choices of other writers
Writers practice attending to particular aspects of a text separately

Teach students strategies for controlling their own writing

Writers can acquire additional vocabulary for referring to writing
Writers can suggest strategies to others that they might practice themselves
Writers can become more adept and comfortable with drafting and revising

Provide the opportunity for students to improve their writing

Writers can adapt their thinking and writing to meet the criteria of a particular assignment, genre, class, or discipline

Writers can make significant revisions to improve content, focus, argument, organization, and/or support

Writers can catch and fix errors in form, syntax, or mechanics

Build classroom community
Vary class-session format
Provide feedback without increasing the professor's paper-load

2. Adapt peer review to your teaching situation

TIME: Peer review need not take up a whole class period, nor concern a whole draft, nor require the formation of small silent groups

Students may work with the same peers throughout a term or with new peers each time, in groups of 3-5 or with random nearby partners

Students may share intro paragraphs, topic-sentence outlines, 1-page "rants," hypotheses, sketches, abstracts, bibliographies

Students may exchange whole drafts, but review only parts thereof in a quick, targeted review: compare the intro and conclusion; edit paragraph 3 only; read the first and last sentences of each paragraph to check for argumentation

Students may talk through or read aloud their drafts, share around a group, trade with a partner, pick up an anonymous draft from a front table and return it when finished, complete a guided self-review and share revisions with a peer afterwards

SPACE: Peer review need not happen in a classroom at all

Course management systems, email, blogs, and wikis allow peer-review assignments to take place online

Audio/visual hardware & software make it easier than ever before for students to provide non-written peer-feedback

Students presented with clear deadlines, straightforward task-lists, and unambiguous assessment protocols can complete PR as homework

ETHOS: Peer review may be "hard" or "soft," come "early" or "late"

Peer review sessions may direct students to be supportive and encouraging to one another

Peer review sessions may direct students to critically apply instructor-given criteria to each others' writing

Peer review sessions may primarily focus on generation of new ideas or attend to other broad gaps in an early draft

Peer review sessions may require students to proofread and edit to eliminate errors in a near-final draft


3.  Adjust the peer review process to match your classroom goals

Choose more exploratory, open-ended, student-directed review elements to

Build community or emotional engagement
Emphasize independent critical reading, writing, thinking skills
Enable honest peer-reader response
Provide a low initial threshold for inexperienced reviewers
Take advantage of experienced reviewers

Sample exploratory prompts:

  • Writers: Ask three questions (not "yes or no" questions) of your peers: Try "how could I ___ better," or "should I ___ or ___ here" or "where could I ___ more?"

  • Readers: When you finish reading, turn the paper over and write about what you remember best about it -- why? What part seems hazy -- what don't you know?

  • Readers: Read the intro and stop. Ask three questions and/or write three objections. At the end of the paper, tell the author if s/he addressed your concerns. Provide suggestions on improving the essay.

  • Readers: List five criteria for a good response to this assignment. Where does the author do well on these criteria? where could s/he improve on each one?

Choose more professor-directed review elements to

Efficiently focus students on new or difficult strategies
Direct attention to common and/or oft-overlooked difficulties
Scaffold more nuanced critical reading and writing skills
Support less-experienced reviewers in confident critique
Provide experienced reviewers with new approaches to evaluation

Sample directive prompts:

  • Writers: Underline three places where you ___ (make an argument, refer to a main idea of the reading, provide specific data, incorporate a quotation smoothly) and star two places where you think you should do that better.

  • Readers: Read the opening and closing paragraphs; in each, double-underline the sentence giving the strongest argument; of the two, which is clearer? If it's the one in the conclusion, write a note: "Transplant to the beginning?!"

  • Readers: Review this 4-point checklist for the assignment. Give the author a check-minus, check, or check-plus for each point. For two points, write a praise-comment somewhere on the draft:  "Good work here on ___ ." For two points, write a suggestion: "Try more ___ here."

  • Readers: Read the opening sentence for each body paragraph. If the sentence is a statement of fact or a statement of some other source's ideas, write "Summary" next to it. If the sentence gives the author's own judgment, write "Judgment: Yay!" by it.

Consider asking for different types of responses

This list goes, in my experience, from what's easiest to what's hardest for students to do (accurately) -- so in working with inexperienced reviewers, or in designing warm-up questions, try some activities from the top of the list:

liking something (and saying why, exactly)
asking questions about ideas in the text
disliking or being confused by something (why?)
identifying rhetorical or other textual elements ("this is a long sentence")
comparing value of rhetorical/textual elements (a better X / a less-good X)
judging success in meeting criteria
judging failure in meeting criteria
generally explaining a writer's success ("because...")
specifically suggesting how to improve what exists
specifically suggesting how to improve by adding something not yet present
providing an overall evaluation of the text


4. Adjust the peer review process to match your assignment goals

Match review prompts to key learning goals

What new/challenging writing strategies does this assignment require?
How does this assignment require students to stretch beyond your previous one?
What analysis capabilities are most important in this course-unit?
What content-material mastery should students demonstrate?

Match review prompts to likely student misconceptions or errors

What key elements do writers of "C" essays most often overlook?
What have previous students struggled with most in this assignment?
What do current students struggle with most in completing writing assignments?
What errors frustrate you most as you read student writing?

Match review prompts to genre- or discipline-based expectations

Acknowledge students' common models for academic writing: personal narrative, literary analysis, book report, general researched report, pro-con essay

What characteristics separate an abstract, field report, proof, memo, or artist's notes from one of those "standard" academic essays? (Consider organization, diction, level of elaboration or evidence, beginnings/endings, format, etc.)

What characteristics might distinguish an "analysis" in your field from an analysis in a literature class? (Consider typical issues or questions, source material, kinds of preferred evidence, structure, elaboration, diction, etc.)

Consider using review prompts to help students take risks

Ask peers to praise unusual arguments, phrasings, examples
Ask peers to provide challenging questions or counterarguments
Ask peers to suggest "out on a limb" arguments or unexpected connections

Repetition of prompts across a semester helps students internalize common vocabulary, strategies, and expectations.

Variance of prompts from one peer-review session to another helps students learn to adapt writing to new audiences, purposes, and contexts.



5. Analyze your audience to increase peer review success

Know what students already know; plan for their success & credibility

Ask reviewers to complete tasks they will be competent at and comfortable with

Ask reviewers to judge content-knowledge they should be familiar with

Allow enough time for reviewers to complete key tasks well (add relevant but less-important tasks to the end of a task-list to keep speedsters productively occupied)

Talk with your students about the peer review process

Find out how your expectations/purposes compare with those of other teachers in their past

Discuss what they find most useful in peer feedback, and what makes that kind of feedback difficult to provide

Ask about their confidence in the peer-review process; develop responses to counter the "I'll just wait for the teacher's comments" approach

Consider what extrinsic motivators students might need

Length and timing of peer-review activities
Directiveness and/or freedom within peer-review activities
Classroom atmosphere
Instructor reinforcement
Assessment consequences

Get feedback about peer-review exercises

Help students perceive hidden successes: "How many of you saw something in a peer's draft that gave you an idea for something you could do?"

Use surveys or reflective writing to see highlights and sticky points

Review reviews to find sample comments to share as models



6. Teach key reviewing skills

Shelley's "20 Minute Rule":

Anything you really want students to do on their own at a critically-engaged college-student level, and that you suspect they might not have done before, you need to do together -- in class -- at least once -- for 20 minutes.

This applies when you want students, for instance the assignment prompt, critically annotate an article, question a text, take good notes, check their work, prep a lab, and -- definitely -- review a peer's essay.

Stitch-in-time, short-form corollary: Plan to spend 20-25% of scheduled peer-review time discussing, practicing, and/or reflecting on reviewing skills, especially the first time or two you incorporate a peer-review activity.

Generate and/or discuss criteria for evaluation

Ask students to deduce from the assignment prompt what they might look for as they review other students' writing

Ask students to list, define, and give examples to demonstrate general criteria for good writing, or for good writing in this genre/discipline

Discuss any grading rubric that you plan to use in evaluating this assignment

Draw students' attention to any particular criteria that are the focus of this peer-review session

Share and discuss "model" texts

Create one or more "good" and/or "bad" paragraphs, thesis sentences, descriptions, process reports, rebuttals, conclusions, bulleted lists

Design the text to model, in particular, good or bad traits that you want students to focus on during this particular review session

Let students -- in whole-class discussion, in groups or pairs -- practice identifying strengths and weaknesses in the model text(s)

Share and discuss appropriate comments

Provide model comments for students to review, and/or ask them to describe comments that are helpful or not: usually they agree that "Good Job Jenny!" is not all that helpful

Ask students to generate "good" and "better" (usually more-specific) comments and suggestions related to the model text

Encourage students to do the difficult work of suggesting alternatives

Help students develop a broader -- and common -- vocabulary for talking about writing in your class



7. Teach or coach key revision skills

Revising an essay or other document is

not a self-evident process
not a process that successful writers have frequently engaged in
not a process that struggling writers have successfully engaged in
more difficult when advice is incomplete or even contradictory
crucial to the felt-success of a peer-review session: Return On Investment

“I teach a writing class, and we always talk about revision; is there more?”

Remember Shelley's 20-minute Rule: Invest class time in actual revision of this document, with direct links to the peer-review session.

Peer advice can be like tea-leaves: talk about how to interpret it (for instance, note that what the reviewer says is "wrong" may not be an accurate diagnosis, but it's an indication that something is not working for some readers)

Revisions can be put off until the memories of what to do & how to do it have faded: encourage revisions or revision-planning soon after peer-review

Try directed group revision for common needs: "Everyone find one place to possibly add a sentence beginning, 'Another example of this is….' and then share your new sentence with your neighbor"

Try multi-stage peer review: Ask students to complete a suggested revision, return to (or post online for) the peer who made initial suggestions, get feedback: "Is this better? Do I still need more?"

“I'm not a writing teacher: how/why should I teach revision?”

Consider yourself a revision coach: Create time and provide encouragement for students who are working on revisions

Ask students to take 5 minutes to "try something" just to see how revision might work: Add/Move/Delete a sentence or paragraph, respond to one peer's suggestion, go "out on a limb"

Ask students in class to make one of three improvements you know other students have often needed in this assignment; provide "before" and "after" examples to demonstrate options

Ask students to write a 3-step "Revision Plan" -- one small, one medium, and one large change -- to help them envision themselves revising

As you coach, remember that simple actions can be extremely helpful:

Writers need advice about how/what to revise

Writers need encouragement to make significant revisions

Writers need time to envision/practice/complete revisions

8. Elicit response and reflection about review and revision

Encourage Reflective Practice: Until we can go beyond just doing something, to the point where we can also name it, see ourselves doing it, understand something about where, why, and how it works, and plan to do it again, we are at the mercy of our Muse rather than becoming a practitioner -- a writer or reviewer -- with some ability to control our successes.

(How) Did This Work? Eliciting Generative Responses from Students

Show of hands or quick freewrite: How many of you saw something a peer wrote that gave you a good idea? learned something about what this assignment could be or is supposed to do? suggested a change to a peer that you might make to your own writing?

List on board: most helpful comments from peers this time

Class discussion: who got suggestions to change X?  to add Y?

How Can I Work This? Eliciting Reflective Responses from Students

Revision plan (informal) or Revision Memo (with specific examples)

Post-script paragraph: What was hard/easy about writing this? What revisions got made, and what suggestions were set aside? What's the best part of the essay now? How will this help with future writing?

Final-text annotations: "Here I made my thesis more argumentative. Here I added an example. Here I split a long paragraph -- did I do it right?"

Next-text annotations: "Last time I was told I needed to ___, so in this assignment I did X in paragraph 3 and Y in paragraph 5."


9. Go full circle: Take time for pedagogical reflection

When a peer-review session works well, we are likely to keep trying it in exactly the same way, for better or for worse. When it doesn't go well, of course, our initial impulse can be to abandon the activity rather than to try to fix it, or to try random changes to make it better.

Like any assignment, a peer-review activity can be deliberately tinkered with to better match the needs and experiences of those involved, if we take time to think critically through the possible elements that worked or didn't work.

Was I satisfied with this peer-review session? 

Do I feel that my and my students' time was well-invested?

If not, should I decrease my/their time investment or improve my structural, full-circle strategies to feel more satisfied?

What would I want to see more or less of to increase my satisfaction? What elements of the situation contributed this time to those things not happening -- student unpreparedness? lack of time? lack of student motivation/confidence? lack of clarity in review-tasks?

Which of my initial goals were met?

If a goal wasn't met, should I change the goal or the presentation/scaffolding?

If a goal was met, should I use it again or move on to another PR goal?

How might I adjust my peer-review for the next assignment/class?

Did successes depend on these particular students or contexts? or can they be replicated (with adjustments) elsewhere?

What steps will I keep for reinforcement? what will I adapt in order to increase students' range?

Where might I slow down or extend this process? where might I speed it up or condense it without losing power?

What do my students know now that I can build on later? What did these students struggle with that I should attend to more next time?

What do my students still need to learn/practice about reviewing and revising?

How might I create more time/space for response and reflection to help "seal the deal"?


Last updated June 2008. Email Shelley Reid