6 Ways to Make Peer Editing Run Seamlessly

Peer Editing is one of those things that I have a love-hate relationship with. I absolutely love the final product when it’s done correctly. I love when students give other students amazing feedback. I love when students sit and listen to each other’s criticisms and take them in stride without arguments. I love when they actually give each other great ideas. It’s a teaching moment that I can honestly say I LOVE.

But I didn’t always love peer editing. In fact, I used to hate it. In fact, I used to dread my writing lessons where students were being asked to peer edit. I knew it was a necessary task, but I also knew I didn’t want to do it because of how it would turn out. Generally, students would argue, not give constructive criticism, become easily offended, and often be off task. I haven’t mastered peer editing by any means, but we have gotten SO much better at it. Here are my “not so secret” secrets:

Repeat Peer Editing Rules CONSTANTLY

I have eight peer editing rules that I show them and repeat to my students every time we peer edit. They know them so well I imagine (in my own little perfect world) that they are saying them in their sleep. My eight rules are quite simple:

  1. Be a good listener.
  2. Give useful feedback.
  3. Share responsibility.
  4. Give compliments before criticism. 
  5. Ask open ended questions instead of “yes or no” questions.
  6. Stay on task.
  7. You may disagree but not argue.
  8. Have fun!

I have posters with examples for each rule. I always refer back to them if I find them to be breaking one. They even correct themselves when they find themselves breaking them now! 

You can purchase these posters here.

Allow Them a Comfortable Space

I hope that by the end of this year my entire room will be filled with flexible seating. Until then, I have a few options around the room. I always allow peers to find a quiet space that’s comfortable. Whether that’s rocking chairs,  a rug spot, or even just a quiet corner on the floor. Some prefer to stay in desks. When they are comfortable, I feel they work better. Especially when they are separated from other peer groups. 

Make Sure You Discuss Specific Feedback

Peer Editing can become unproductive very quickly. In order for it to be beneficial in any way, students need to know exactly what they should be looking for. When I am asking students to revise, I tell them they need to look for something that should be added, moved, changed, or deleted. When students are proofreading, I tell them to look for CUPS. This is (Capitalization, UsagePunctuation, and Spelling). An example of specific feedback may be, “You need to add  a topic sentence to the second paragraph.” Or, “Make sure to start every sentence with a capital letter.”

Be Sure Peers are Starting with Compliments Before Criticisms

I always tell my peer groups that they need to start their editing session with a compliment. All writers, including us as adult writers, often feel attacked when we are greeted with criticism. Peers often find it hard to accept criticism from each other, so starting with a compliment is always helpful. However, I tell my students again to be specific here. What EXACTLY do you like about the piece. Does it have a strong introduction? A great conclusion? Which sentence or sentences jumped out at you?

Do Not Overanalyze Groupings

I often find that when I sit and overanalyze partner groups, it turns out worse than when I don’t. Students will surprise you on how flexible they can be. Also, strengths and weaknesses tend to balance each other out. Put peers together that you normally wouldn’t think of putting together. You know your students better than anyone, however often times it is nice for them to be with someone they aren’t used to working with. For my last nonfiction project, I put unlikely peers together that I normally wouldn’t consider, and I was pleasantly surprised! They rose to the challenge of helping each other and holding each other accountable.

Use Post It Notes

One thing I started doing when I moved to fifth grade writing, is using post it notes. It is amazing the amount of use I get out of them. In fact, it is my number one on the student materials list. I also buy a ton of them at the beginning of the year. There are many reasons I love them. First of all, I love color coding, and post it notes are a great way to do that. For example, I may tell students to put a compliment on one color, something they can add on a different color, and something they can change or take away on a different color. This ensures students are able to to remember to do each part of the editing task. Secondly, it is a great way to give feedback without having to have students actually write on the other student’s paper. Fifth graders (and any grade level I would imagine) are territorial of their work. When you use a post it, they can take it on and off. Especially if they decide not to use the suggestion, it is a great way to easily remove without having things get messy. Also, students for some reason love post its. They are much more likely to use them and complete the task when they are using fun colors and sticking things to paper. Who knew?!

Hold Students Accountable

My last suggestion for peer editing is to hold students accountable. This may mean that you tell them they can’t go back to their seats until they have shared a compliment and two criticisms. This could mean you are collecting their feedback. Or, I have students share their compliments and criticisms out loud. This one usually works the best. If students know they are going to be asked to share out loud, they usually want to make sure they have something to share.  A couple weeks ago, I attended a curriculum night where we displayed some peer editing from non fiction paragraphs we had completed. Knowing they might make the board, was a motivator to do a nice job on the task!

Hopefully these tips will help you to love peer editing the way I now do! Even starting with one or two may help the process run more smoothly each time!

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