Read-Around Groups

Read-Around Groups

Guest post by Jessica Campbell

Over three years of teaching 100-level composition, I’ve held peer review about five different ways. No method is perfect, but this one has been largely successful. This peer review happens a day or two before a “final” draft of a paper is due to me; students bring in their rough drafts. I have done this with the major papers in all classes and also with shorter assignments in 109/110.

Here are the directions I give the students:

1. Get in groups of 3.

2. I will collect everyone’s rough draft and then redistribute the drafts to other groups.

3. Each person individually and silently reads one paper, marking the paper with questions, comments, and edits.

4. After 5 minutes, pass the paper to the group member on your right. At this point, everyone reads a second paper. In marking a paper for the second time, insert your own questions, comments, and edits, but also respond to those that the first reader made.

5. Again, take 5 minutes, and then repeat the process a third time.

6. When all group members have read all 3 essays, begin to discuss them as a group. Your group will fill out one Peer Response Sheet for each paper. That means that the three of you need to reach agreement about the paper’s strengths and weaknesses. Remember that this response sheet will go to the writer of the paper and will help him/her in identifying further revisions to make for the final draft.

The Peer Response Sheet mentioned in these directions is the product of a discussion held in class the previous day, during which we all look at the prompt and determine what would be the most useful questions to ask about the rough drafts. These questions vary depending on the assignment, but a generic example is below:

R.A.G.s Peer Response Sheet
Readers’ Names _______________________________________________________________
Paper Written By ______________________________________________________________

1. What are the strengths of this paper? What works?

2. What are the weaknesses of this paper? What does not work?

3. Does the paper have a complex claim? To what extent does it reflect the body of the argument?

4. Does the paper use quotations effectively? Does the writer provide sufficient analysis of the quotations to show how they contribute to the main point of the paragraph and the paper as a whole?

5. (Writer of paper: insert your own question here)

To me, this method has two major advantages. (1) The students participate a great deal in producing the questions that they and their peers will pose during the peer review. They therefore get practice in evaluating and editing their own work. (2) All the students, as part of reviewing groups of three, participate in discussions about writing. I have been amazed at the high level of discussion I have overheard from students in their conversations about each other’s papers. Since the writer of the paper is not part of the reviewing group, students feel more liberated in their constructive criticism.

One pitfall of this method is that reviewers sometimes give very short, unhelpful written answers to the questions on the Peer Response Sheet. It may be helpful to require full sentences and/or remind students that they need to be detailed and to give the writer guidance as to how to address an issue, rather than simply pointing the issue out.

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4 Responses to Read-Around Groups

  1. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for this, Jessica. I’m going to use it in class today. I added the additional instruction: “Respond with complete sentences that offer extreme detail. Use the back of the paper to elaborate.” I figured that if I asked for “extreme” detail I was more likely to get some specific responses!

  2. egonline says:

    Glad to hear it was useful, Suzanne! How did it go? I like your addition – the key phrases of “complete sentences” and “extreme detail” sound like they should help.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I really like this activity for peer review! But, the two times I used this format this quarter it felt really rushed to have students read and discuss three papers. I’m thinking about doing groups of two next time around (especially for major papers). Or, have groups of three in which the students read and discuss their own papers (so they would read two new papers but discuss three overall). Has anyone experimented with this?

  4. egonline says:

    Yes, I’ve always felt rushed doing this, too. Although I haven’t yet taught a 2-hour class since I started doing RAGs, and I assume that’d work better. But trying it either of the ways you mention seems promising – I might give it a go next year. I don’t know whether anyone has already tried. There’s also the possibility of distributing the papers the night before so that students can do the reading of the papers outside of class, which would save time…although I’d also worry about creating a golden opportunity for plagiarism.

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