Tips for Creating a (Low-Tech) Peer-Editing Program That Works

I am a strong proponent of teachers and self-care.  And with that comes teachers managing their time wisely.  One of my earliest teaching mentors often said to me "Work smarter, not harder."  It was not until I had a few years under my belt that I realized that that meant changing some things that included me actually stepping back and not doing it ALL.  Including not grading everything myself.  Enter the gift of peer editing!  

creating a peer-editing program that works


Here are some tried-and-true techniques for teaching your students the skill and practice of effective peer editing.  And be sure to also check out 5 Reasons Why Students Should be Doing More Peer Editing.

  • First and foremost, you must create a classroom environment that is open, friendly, and encouraging.  Trying to implement a peer-editing program in a hostile classroom where students don’t feel they can speak their mind, tell the truth, or at the very least be respected enough to be listened to can spell failure.  Students must be taught that your classroom is an inviting, encouraging classroom where all opinions are respected, all voices are heard, and everyone matters.  You, most of all, must model this behavior.  You may want to have a class discussion about what it feels like to not be heard or respected, or what it means to really listen to another person respectfully.  Finally, you must teach students that their opinions matter, and they do have something to contribute to their classmates.  They may not feel like the best writer at all, but they do have ideas in their head that can help even the best writer come up with new ways of writing or a new slant on a topic.
  • Students must be given the tools for effective peer editing.  A technique I suggest is to make sure students have a colored pencil or highlighter.  The first thing students should do after reading an essay is to go back to the beginning of the essay and reread it, circling or highlighting any misspellings, punctuation errors, or other obvious problems in the essay.  Remind them that they are not responsible for fixing the errors…just circling them!  If they THINK a word is misspelled, for example, they should circle it.  The writer is then responsible for looking up the word or checking the grammar or punctuation to be sure it is correct.
  • Once the editor has circled (or highlighted) any problems, they can create a T-Chart by folding a blank piece of paper in half, lengthwise. On one half of the paper, write the word “Plus (+).”  On the other side, write the word “Minus (—).”  From there, students should complete the chart with both good points (+) and problems (—) in the essay.  I suggest that editors always made sure they had a general balance between both pluses and minuses. This forces students to be creative with their compliments, because as we all know, everyone is a critic!  Remind them that they must be honest, but to really look hard for things they can compliment.  “Good job on writing five paragraphs!” “Font is clear and easy to read” “Way to go putting your essay on white paper” “Very few typing errors!” “I like your point of view—it makes me think.”  You get the idea.  On the “Minus” side, students should write what is done poorly or is missing. Include notes such as: title is boring, need a longer and more interesting thesis statement, choppy sentences, simple vocabulary, topic sentences are not at the beginning of each body paragraph, etc.
  • Once students have finished their initial evaluation, have students take their evaluations one step further:
    • Using a colored pen, highlighter, or light-colored marker, highlight a) title, b) the first sentence of the essay, and c) the last sentence of the essay.  Is there a title?  Is there a grabber?  Is there a challenge?
    • If you have not already done so, using a colored pen, highlighter, or light-colored marker, circle any spelling and punctuation errors you can find.  How many spelling errors did you find?  How many punctuation errors did you find?
    • If you have not already done so, using a colored pen, highlighter, or light-colored marker, circle any word that does not fit and highlight any sentences that do not make sense to you.  How many and which words are used incorrectly or don’t make sense? How many and which sentences are awkward or confusing?
    • How many paragraphs are there? Count how many details or supporting sentences are in each body paragraph. (Remember, do not count the topic sentence) Body paragraph #1: ___________ Body paragraph #2: ___________ Body paragraph #3: ___________
  • Once they have evaluated the entire essay, students are ready for the optional step of assigning a score to the essay.  It is important to have a rubric that is tailor-made for that specific assignment (an Informative/Explanatory rubric for an Informative/Explanatory Essay, for example).  However, a general rubric can also be effective.  Students use the rubric to assign a score based upon their evaluation of the essay.  You can then either have another editor or two complete the entire process again (challenging them to look for new points to compliment and new problems to mention) or you can have the editor give the writer back his essay, complete with the T-Chart, Evaluation Response (#4) and score.  Be sure to allow a good 10 minutes or so for the editor and writer to discuss the essay.  Editors should constructively critique the essay, and should be able to support all comments and suggestions.  Writers should feel comfortable asking the editor why she gave the score she did.  There should be an open conversation happening with every editor and writer, as they learn from each other.  And you, as the facilitator, should be walking around monitoring the conversations.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes or if you have any other ideas that work for your peer editing program!

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