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Encouraging peer response
- How my students benefit from responding to each other's writing
- Some key points to consider
- Students responding to each other's writing in general
- Specific activities to get the students involved in each other's writing
How my students benefit from responding to each other's writing
It is easy to think that you, as the teacher, are the only person who can or should respond to your students' writing, but don't forget the other people in the classroom as well . . . the students! By getting my students to read each other's writing, I am helping them in several ways:
- Getting to know each other
Likes, dislikes, opinions, dreams, goals, creative thoughts . . . all these can be expressed in writing tasks, and through reading each other's work, students can build stronger relationships. For good class dynamics, student-to-student relationships, as well as teacher-to-student, need to be good.
- Learning from each other
Reading each other's work will expose the students to different ideas and different levels and ways of using English. This is not 'cheating'! Strong pieces of writing, with clear ideas and good organisation, are good models for students, and spur on those students who haven't put in so much effort. Seeing other students actually using new language (grammar and vocabulary) that has been learnt in class will encourage the other students to apply their own learning.
- Having an authentic 'audience' or readership
As discussed in the previous article, Responding to the content of my students' writing, when we write, we write for a reader. Having the students read each other's work provides a wide readership who will respond to the writing in a variety of ways, giving a richer response than just a single person (the teacher). Knowing that other students will read their work also encourages students to take more time over the thinking, planning and writing stages.
Some key points to consider
When setting writing and reading tasks which will involve students reading each other's work, I always keep in mind the following ideas and words:
- Clear achievable tasks - students need to understand clearly what you are asking them to do and why. This will keep the writing and responding activity focused and forward-moving.
- Reason to read - students should want to read each other's work; to do so, they need a reason that they value. Elicit reasons from them rather than always giving the reason yourself, e.g. ask them what they want to find out from the writing.
- Non-competitive and non-threatening - students need to feel comfortable doing the activity; there should be mutual trust and clear guidelines as to how to respond.
- Positive and constructive feedback - tasks should encourage students to share their ideas and opinions, but you can stress that the emphasis should be on the positive.
- Fun and motivation - vital ingredients! Choose, or let students choose, subjects that interest them, issues they can really get involved in.
Students responding to each other's writing in general
'Process writing' and 'drafting' - I use process writing with my students, which means that their writing tasks go through several stages, from brainstorming, to planning and organising, through to writing two or three drafts. At each stage, students get feedback, sometimes from me and sometimes from other students.
- I organise the students into small groups and they exchange work, giving feedback to each other. I ask them to answer questions about the organisation of the writing and the content, e.g. Is there enough information? Is it interesting? How can it be improved?
- Students can also help each other correct and improve the language. I use a correction code for writing, and students can talk with each other to correct the marked work. They can also use the correction code themselves on each other's work. This is especially useful if you have mixed ability groups; weaker students can learn a lot from stronger ones.
Specific activities to get the students involved in each other's writing
Writing on walls - Put finished pieces of writing up on the wall. Students move around the class reading the work. Here are some tasks that work well with this:
- Students make notes of ideas in the writing for later discussion
- Treasure hunt - students answer questions that you have prepared earlier, the answers to which are all in the texts on the walls
- Students use 'Post-it' notes to write questions about the texts, and then stick these questions on the writing for the author to collect and answer, possibly in writing!
- Students respond naturally to the text type - if they wrote an advertisement for a holiday, ask them to choose the best holiday and to say why
Newspaper - If some students enjoy word-processing, I encourage them to become the 'news team'. They collect the writing for that week and make a class newspaper. Depending on the technology available, we
either distribute the newspaper by e-mail, by photocopy or by posting a copy on the class notice board. The newsletter can be used as a basis for classroom discussion, debate and letter-to-the-paper writing.
Paper e-mail - My students love this fast writing activity. They each have a piece of paper and they quickly write an 'e-mail' to the person on their right. Give them a time limit of one minute and encourage them to ask a question in their e-mail. When the time is up, they pass their papers to the right and so receive an 'e-mail' from
the person on their left. Their job now is to read and respond to this new e-mail. The e-mails go backwards and forwards between the pairs of students - each student is involved in two different e-mail dialogues. Quite a conversation can be built up! This is a great way to focus students on fluency and communication in writing.
Postbox - This is a fun activity . . . everyone likes to receive mail! Make a postbox for the class - I use an old shoe box for this. At the start of every week, each student posts a postcard to someone in the class telling them about their weekend. After the post-person (you or a student) has delivered the cards, the students have to respond to their mail by discussing in groups who had the most exciting/interesting/boring weekend. Ask the students to write to someone different each week.
Questions on the wall - You (before class) or the students (in class) write questions on blank posters and put them up on the wall. Everyone (including you) goes round the room, writing their answers to the questions on the posters. When finished, put the students into small groups. Give one or two of the posters to each group. The students have to summarise the class's answers; for example, with the question: "Would you like to live abroad?", the summary of the answers could be: "15 out of 23 people would like to live abroad sometime in their life and 8 out of 23 wouldn't."
The questions could focus on a particular grammar structure (for example, "Would you . . .?"), a vocabulary area (for example, adjectives to describe emotions - "What makes you happy/sad/annoyed?"), or be freely written.
I hope this article and these activities have given you some idea of the ways I encourage students to respond to each other's writing in class.
If you have any ideas that you feel have successfully helped your students to develop their writing why not add them below as a comment and share them.
Process Writing by Ron White and Valerie Ardnt
Language Teaching Methodology by David Nunan
Progressive Writing Skills by Will Fowler
Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers by Michael McCarthy
Emma Pathare, Teacher, Trainer, Materials writer, Dubai