Helping Students Review Classmates’ Writing

This section offers suggestions for classroom peer review and shows a three-part method students can use to review a classmate’s paper by describing paragraphs, evaluating writing technique, and responding to content.

When students read one another's drafts (either in-class or out) and respond according to the appropriate criteria, they act as both writers and respondents. As writers, they meet whatever preliminary deadlines have been set. As respondents, they help other student writers recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and they help those students prioritize and make plans for successfully completing the thinking/writing process. In most cases, peer responses are tied to a sheet that provides guidelines for giving useful written feedback.

Rather than act as respondents themselves, professors orchestrate the logistics of student-to-student reading and responding by (1) determining when response would be most useful, (2) making sure that students understand appropriate criteria for their responses, (3) providing handouts of response guidelines, and (4) deciding how such responses will count for course credit.

The following form guides students in responding to a personal statement paper, but it can be adapted to any paper.

Author of Review: ___________________________________________________

Writer's Name: ______________________________________________________

Write a peer review of the personal statement your classmate has written to include with an application for a fellowship, scholarship, or enrollment in graduate school. Use the form below as a template.*

1. Write a descriptive outline of the paper.



Paragraph 1

Says (summary):

Does (rhetorical effect): a)



Paragraph 2


Does: a)



Carry on accordingly for every paragraph of the paper. In the “does” sentences, don't forget the “by” clause (b) that shows how the rhetorical effect of (a) is done.

2. Respond to the paper's writing technique by commenting on the following criteria: unity, coherence, development, style, and mechanics (see Bruffee p. 183). Identify strengths and suggest improvements. Answer the following questions with specific detail about each criterion. What is effective and well done in the paper? What might be done to improve the paper?

• Unity (oneness):

• Coherence (stick-togetherness):

• Development:

• Style:

• Mechanics:

3. Respond to the paper's content. If you found yourself mentioning issues of content while you were considering the writing technique above, that's fine. (It shows that style and content can't really be separated.) As you address the content, you might consider questions such as these (they are just suggestions): Why is the author making this particular application, or what are the assumptions beneath the writer's reasons for making the application? What are the implications? Do your classmate's experiences or expectations jibe with yours? Why did you especially identify with certain parts? Why could you not identify with other parts? What are the points of similarity and difference between you and the writer, and what do you learn from those points? After reading the personal statement, are you able to say, “I feel as though I know you now. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into what makes you tick”? Why, specifically, or why not, specifically?

*Adapted from Kenneth Bruffee, A Short Course in Writing: Composition, Collaborative Learning, and Constructive Reading, 4th ed., New York: HarperCollins,1993: 186, Print.

For more information, email Jon Olson.