Getting Started with Pair Peer Review

By on April 21, 2015

Ms. Garrison--a contributing author to LiteracyTA's new K-1 and 2-3 Reading and Writing Teacher Guides--shares her experience teaching young students how to engage in peer review workshops. Her experience teaching primary grade students and her insights as an elementary school teacher will inspire and challenge teachers and give them some great writing ideas for the 2015-2016 school year.

Spring is the perfect time of the year to think about our teaching and try some new things with our students that will enhance learning and build on an established collaborative environment. As elementary school teachers, our main goal for writing is to teach students how to express themselves on paper, whether it is drawings, simple words, or longer, more structured pieces of writing. As they learn to write, students must also learn to revise their writing. College and Career Readiness Standard W5 (beginning in Kindergarten) expects students to respond to questions from adults and peers and strengthen writing as needed. The expectation makes sense, but how do we successfully provide opportunities for students to practice this standard?

When LiteracyTA approached me last year about creating a process for Pair Peer Review for a first grade classroom, my excitement was a bit overshadowed by doubt. Expecting first graders to help each other improve their writing seemed like an arduous task. I thought back on all the different ways I had attempted a peer review or writing workshop process with first graders in the past. I have tried clever and catchy posters, consumable checklists, strategic student pairing, and various other strategies pinned and posted on our go to social media sites. Each time I tried peer review, I felt that the students weren’t really doing what I wanted them to. Anyone who has attempted this process before may have had the same results I have. You may have seen students distracted and not listening to each other. One student may even be gazing around the room or fiddling with something in his desk. I had convinced myself that my students were too young for this type of academic work.

However, after I spent some time looking over LiteracyTA’s Peer Review resources and materials that they had developed for middle school and high school students, I became hopeful that with the right support and structure, my students could indeed rise to the challenge and begin to behave as young writers.

I took LiteracyTA’s process for looking closely at student writing and made it work for our youngest students. I decided to break up the standards into multiple tasks that are grade level appropriate and organized them into five stations. Knowing that young students work best in pairs, I wrote the directions so that students “buddy up” and rotate through each station, focusing on one task at a time during the editing process. Each station has specific colored pencils and task cards. The task cards outline expectations and provide basic writing and spelling rules. The five stations are: Capitalization, Spelling, Punctuation, Word Choice, and Structure. Students work together to fix mistakes and improve their writing.  Once I developed Pair Peer Review for the K-1 classroom, I was able to develop tasks and support materials for grades 2-5.

Pair Peer Review takes a few weeks to launch. First, choose one or two tasks to complete as a whole group. For example, students practice looking for and marking ending punctuation as a class. You want to be sure your students understand how to complete each task before allowing them to complete tasks in their Pair Peer Review groups. Add more tasks when you feel your students are ready.

Then, strategically group students in pairs and set up the Pair Peer Review rotations. I have found that setting up the stations in specific places in the room can be beneficial. For example, when students are at the spelling rotation, they are next to word walls that they can easily reference for spelling support. When students are at the strong word station, they are next to a Strong Words For Writing word wall that provides ideas for adding strong words.

When students are seated with a partner at their stations, allow them to work in pairs to edit their writing. Give students time to complete each task (about 5-10 min). Walk around each station and offer support and guidance. Students will be reading one paper at a time in their pairs. My students use “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who reads first. One student reads while the other helps fix mistakes and improve writing. Then, students switch.

Providing this structure has had many benefits for my students. They are engaged in the process the whole time because the tasks are short and focused. Another benefit is that my students get plenty of reading practice since they have to read their writing at least 5 times as they move through the stations. Students love using colored pencils to find and fix mistakes, and they are very proud of themselves when they can make their writing stronger or find new words to improve their writing. When I assign a new writing task, my students ask the same question: “Are we doing Peer Review?” After I confirm that we are, the response is always the same, “YES!” They love this work!

As I reflect on this year and think about what my students have learned, I must remember that students can do amazing things with structure and support!"

Want to learn more about Peer Review? Excited about developing your students into young writers? Register for this summer's LiteracyTA University. Can't make it to San Diego? We have an online session in the fall. Make plans and register today for one of our great workshops.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
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