(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)
Peer review can be very useful for the students as well as the teacher.
In my ideal peer review session, students swap papers, then give each other encouragement and gently point out each others’ more obvious errors. Based on that, they edit their own papers, and then hand them in to me.
Two challenges that I’ve faced with peer review are getting students’ buy-in and ensuring that the students who struggle are not way off the mark with their advice.
This activity is a suggestion for how to get a class started with peer review.
In a nutshell, I suggest that you simply use the students’ essays as you’d use any other example writing from the textbook. Give them the reading and several (not too many!) targeted questions to answer as their review. Reviews and essays are handed in at the same time. When you grade Student A’s assignment, read and respond to the reviews on Student A’s assignment, too. Agree or disagree with them and explain why.
In this way, you assess and scaffold the students’ ability to review each other’s work. You can learn a lot about where a student is at by seeing their comments on another students’ work. And your feedback helps them improve.
- Think about what you want students to gain from reviewing each other’s work. Pick the two or three main points.
- Frame questions that help the reviewers focus on these points. Depending on the level, these might be yes/no questions, ask for an appropriate example from the essay, or ask for an explanation.
- Create a simple worksheet with these questions on it. At the top, be sure to have lines for the date, the writer’s name, the essay’s title, and the reviewer’s name. Leave room at the bottom for your feedback to the reviewer about their review. Only one review per piece of paper, for sorting’s sake. Make sure you have enough copies of the worksheet for students to review multiple assignments, as time will allow.
- Introduce peer review in class the day the writing is due. Ideally, peer review is good practice for the reviewer and good information for the writer. Today, you’re going to begin by just having everyone practice reviewing.
- Students should pass their completed essays two people to the left. They should read the essay that’s passed to them and then fill out the entire review worksheet. I recommend a time limit. As time allows, they can pass the essays left again (and again…) and review the next one that comes their way.
- Essays and reviews get handed in at the same time. If you have a class with more than about five people, I recommend that you sort the papers as they hand them in. Make a pile of Student A’s essay and all the reviews about that essay, a separate pile of Student B’s essay with all the reviews on his essay, and so on.
Let’s say I’m teaching an advanced academic writing ESL class and we are currently focusing on thesis statements. This topic had a rocky start but students appear to be much more comfortable with it now.
For homework, I assigned them each to write three direct thesis statements about any topics they wished.
For peer review, I decided that I wanted to be sure that the students understood the anatomy of a thesis statement, and I wanted them to practice evaluating the points.
I placed the following on a simple worksheet:
Your name: _______
Whose homework are you reviewing? _____
Thesis Statement 1:
A. What are the three points that will be raised in this essay?
B. Do you think that these points are all relevant to the topic?
C. Do you think that these points are different enough from each other?
[on actual worksheet, repeat A, B, and C for Thesis Statements 2 and 3]
I made enough copies that students could review three assignments. I figured that we would only have time for two each, though.
I explained that today we would be introducing peer review. What is a peer? What is review? Peer review means that you evaluate each other’s work. I asked, why would I have you look at each other’s work? Together, we made the points that they can learn from each other’s correct answers and from each other’s mistakes. Also, the process of evaluating is really useful.
I explained that we will be doing more peer reviews in the future, not only today.
I explained the process of passing the homework to the left. Then I handed out the peer review sheets and asked them to spend only about three minutes on each thesis statement. (I considered doing an example with them up on the document camera, but decided that at this level, we could skip this.)
After about eight minutes, I asked them to finish the one they were on so we could all pass the homework assignments to the left again. They did go a little slowly, so we only had time for two reviews each.
When it was time to hand in the papers, I asked them to hand me Sara’s homework first. Then I asked for the two reviews of Sara’s work and put them under it. Then I asked for the next person’s with the two reviews of their work, etc. It took an extra two minutes of class time but saved me a lot of awkward paper shuffling later!
I graded the homework and the reviews of it at the same time. I made sure to do this before I planned my next lesson so that their performance on this task could inform instruction.
Variations and Other Content Possibilities:
- Instead of having students pass around their original work, collect it all and hand out a packet of all the work to each student. It’s like a student-generated mini-textbook that you can use for many assignments (i.e. jigsaw reading).
- For lower level ESL, they can review one sentence and check off basics like 1. starts with a capital letter, 2. ends with a period, and 3. I can read their writing.
- When students are giving presentations, have the students who are listening answer two or three questions about the presenter’s performance. Again, focus on skills you hope to reinforce. Did the presenter speak loudly enough? Were their slides easy to read?
- Students can quickly check each other’s assignments for factors like completion, handwriting, etc. This is scanning practice for the reviewers and reinforces these elements of the assignments for everyone!
- This would be great verb tense practice too. In a Present Continuous unit, reviewers can write down the helping verb that was used and the main verb that was used. They can also check off whether each of these elements was correct.