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How to Teach Peer Editing: Effective Strategies for the ELA Classroom

    how to teach peer editing

    Wondering how to teach peer editing in your classroom? Dive into helpful reminders, effective strategies, and sample exercises to share with your students. Let this article guide you as you reassess your approach to this critical aspect of the writing process.

    Even as teachers, providing feedback can be a struggle. There’s so much to process; where do you begin? How much is too little or too much? How can you ensure the feedback is constructive and effective?

    Now, imagine the challenge our students face when we task them with peer editing. Cue the ineffective “Your paper was good” and “I liked it” comments students typically give. There has to be a better way to teach peer editing, right?

    Read on for effective strategies you can use when considering how to teach peer editing in your classroom.

    The Importance of Peer Editing

    Revision is an essential part of the writing process, including peer revisions. Peer editing has many benefits once students move beyond superficial comments and simple proofreading.

    One of the most significant benefits is receiving feedback on one’s writing from a reader’s perspective. We often read over our work with the understanding of what we meant to say. However, the intention does not always translate so clearly. Writers are so close to their work that it can be difficult to spot areas for improvement.

    That’s where peer editing comes into play. As students review and revise each other’s work, they provide a fresh perspective, new insight, and an overall second eye for any simple mistakes. However, peer editing is just as beneficial for the reader as the writer. By reviewing their peers’ work, students can learn about themselves as writers, gaining new insights into how they can improve their writing.

    Introducing Peer Editing

    Rather than assuming your students understand how to approach peer editing effectively, I recommend you begin with a brief introduction to remind students what it is, why it’s important, and how to do it. Sure, your students will likely believe they already know, but their lackluster comments and surface-level suggestions say otherwise.

    Begin by explaining what peer editing is not. It is not the same as proofreading. Effective peer editing required students to look beyond surface-level spelling and grammar mistakes. Encourage students to consider the word revision, emphasizing the idea of bringing a new set of eyes to a text.

    Students need a reminder that peer editing includes critically analyzing aspects such as content and structure. Therefore, it is not just about corrections. More importantly, effective peer editing is about providing feedback and suggestions.

    Introduce Various Types of Feedback

    Simply telling students to leave feedback is not enough. Many students will continue to make basic corrections or stick to surface-level comments. Therefore, I find it helpful to explain the different types of feedback students can leave when peer editing:

    • Compliments: This is what I call the feel-good-feedback. Making space for positive feedback is essential to building confident writers. Students should always leave at least one specific compliment about a particular aspect of the writing.
    • Corrections: This type of feedback is not up for debate. Corrections are meant to note mistakes in spelling and grammar and mark something that is missing. For example, if a paper is missing a thesis statement, hook, evidence, or conclusion, a correction would point that out.
    • Suggestions: Students shouldn’t take this type of feedback lightly. However, the how is up to the writer when implementing the suggestions in their next draft. The editor provides insight, but the writer decides what to do with it if anything at all.
    • Questions: Questions are similar to suggestions in that the writer decides what to do with them when it comes to the next phase of writing. However, I always remind students to be mindful of their audience. If a reader has a question, it’s worth considering the answer and working it into your piece.

    Regardless of which category of feedback the student is leaving, explain the importance of being specific. For example, don’t just identify something as confusing or intriguing. Remind them to explain why.

    How to Teach Peer Editing: Effective Strategies

    Relying on a peer editing handout isn’t the only strategy you can use. Consider the following as alternatives or in addition to your current practice:

    Model the process: Before students can leave effective feedback on their own, it helps to understand how. Have a student volunteer their essay or use a model to read and revise with your students. Explain your thought process, including any questions or comments that come about as you read and annotate the piece. As you move through the paper, you can start asking students for their thoughts on what feedback they would leave.

    Provide guidelines and rubrics: Before students engage in peer editing, be sure they know what they are looking for. Having a copy of the expectations on hand provides a guide for students as they engage in peer editing. Consider providing an extended rubric where students can leave specific feedback and suggestions for each category. That way, both readers and writers have a clear understanding of the feedback.

    Provide a checklist: For more holistic revisions, consider providing a checklist. For each item on the checklist, leave space for the editor to leave a specific comment. If the item is checked off, the student can write a specific piece of praise or an optional suggestion for improvement. (Just because they have it, doesn’t mean it’s perfect!) If the item is missing from the paper or unsuccessfully incorporated, the editor should provide a suggestion, ask a question, or specify what is missing.

    Narrow the focus: This is one of my favorite techniques.To avoid overgeneralized holistic feedback (“It was good”), consider providing a specific lens through which students conduct their revision. Students are often overwhelmed by power editing because they don’t know where to begin. Narrowing the focus to one to three specifics can help take some pressure off and ensure writers get relevant feedback on their drafts.

    Offer thinking stems: Providing students with thinning stems can relieve some of the stress of peer editing. Guide them toward more effective feedback by helping them get started. Here are a few ideas:

    • The … was effective because …
    • I was confused by the … because …. Consider …
    • You make a good point about … but it might benefit from more …
    • Instead of … consider trying …
    • Your piece made me feel/think …

    Peer Editing Exercises to Try in Your Classroom

    Ready to see peer editing in action? Consider trying one of these exercises:

    Peer Edit Station Rotation: The value is peer editing is perspective, right? This activity allows students to receive feedback from various students and get up and move around. Arrange the desks into six groups and leave a stack of papers at each station. Randomly assign students to a table and have them pick one essay to edit until the timer goes off. When time is up, students must move to a new table and select a different paper to focus.  Allow enough time for each paper to be reviewed at least three times. Add a little extra fun by letting students pick a fun (yet legible) color to use for their feedback. The result? A rainbow of revisions!

    Mystery Peer Edit Pile: This simple peer editing activity takes away the stress of students knowing which paper belongs to whom. (Bye-bye biases and social pressure!) Have each student bring a copy of their draft without their name on it to add to the mystery pile.  Hand each student a random draft from the stack (just make sure they don’t get their own) to read and review. Once they finish leaving their feedback, they return the paper to the pile and grab another. This cycle goes on for the duration of the activity.

    Editorial Board: Roleplaying can make a seemingly dull task more fun, especially for younger students. Turn your classroom into a publishing house for the day. Begin the class by assigning students the role of junior editors. Their task? Finding the next piece with “big hit” potential in a pile of submissions (aka student drafts). However, that means finding the potential in a draft and providing appropriate feedback to make it great. Spend a few minutes exploring what an editor does (hint: it’s more than making simple corrections). Then, review the guidelines for publication (the assignment itself and its rubric or guidelines) and have them get to work!  This real-world context allows them to step away from the role of a friend or peer and into the role of an editor. How fun!

    Peer Edit Press Conference: Trust me, this activity is far less intimidating than it sounds. Students won’t be standing in front of their peers, answering and deflecting questions. Instead, they will be the ones asking the questions about their writing. By having students come up with questions for their peers to answer during peer editing, they must first think critically about their work.  As they reflect on their writing, they can identify areas they would like to improve or know they are struggling with. Furthermore, it helps their peers have a sense of direction as they read and provide feedback. However, I remind students that they are free to mark corrections and make a few other remarks.

    How to Teach Peer Editing: A Final Thought

    Peer editing is a great learning opportunity for students. But it all begins by teaching students how to effectively revise and edit each other’s work. Not only will they learn ways to improve their writing, but they will also practice clear communication strategies. After all, clear communication is a must for effective peer revisions.

    Let’s be honest. Peer editing takes a bit off of our plates as teachers too. However, if we don’t begin by teaching peer editing, it’s a waste of valuable time. Hopefully, these strategies help you with how to teach effective peer editing in your classroom!

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