Teaching Writing with a Peer Editing Co-op

by Jimmie Lanley on October 24, 2011

Teaching Writing with a Peer Editing Co-op

At my local homeschool group’s October meeting, we divided up into grade levels with the middle school moms (6th – 8th) all meeting together. Our topic was writing, and some common trouble spots emerged as we shared our children’s situation with writing:

  • weak editing skills
  • not applying the writing skills they know
  • lack of proofreading skills
  • lack of  motivation for the tough steps of editing and revising
  • ultra sensitivity to mom’s criticism during the writing process
I don’t know who came up with the idea first, but many of us agreed that a peer editing session might do our middle school writers a world of good for all of these problems.  And thus the peer editing coop was born. I took the initiative to organize it, and we have met once already.

Planning the Peer Editing Session

Each child brought
  • a draft of an expository essay that could be marked on (double spaced is preferred)
  • colored pens or pencils for marking
As the organizer I made sure to
  • give a name tag to each child and parent
  • have peer editing helps such as checklists and other printables listed below
  • have extra colored pens
  • have references available — list of transitions, dictionary, thesaurus, grammar guides
peer editing pair

Sprite and her partner reading each other’s essays

Editing Mini-lesson

Before dividing up into pairs, I talked to the students briefly about how to do peer editing.

First, I reassured them that offering your paper to someone to read is a very scary and vulnerable thing. I shared some of my own recent experiences with receiving major edits to a piece of writing.

I stressed that to do peer editing well, we need to be sensitive in what we say to others but be tough skinned when it comes to receiving criticism. If we all have that attitude, the peer editing will go smoothly, and everyone will benefit.

Peer editing means sharing the positive as well as the negative. But the foundation is always to be specific. General praise or criticism is not helpful in honing writing skills. All statements must be grounded in precise examples from the paper.

Not helpful

Your paper is awesome! Loved it.
Your paper needs a lot of work.

Helpful

Your descriptions of the Greek god Poseidon made me visualize him clearly.
You have four run-on sentences and two fragments. I marked them here….

Structure of the Peer Editing Time

  1. Sit across the table from your partner.
  2. Read the essay without a pen in your hand. Read for meaning, and enjoy the paper.
  3. Pick up your pen and read the essay through again, marking notes directly onto the essay.
  4. Go through the checklist systematically, rereading the essay as necessary. Make notes on the checklist — yes/no, smiley face/frowny face, plus/check mark/minus — use whatever system works for you.
  5. Return the paper to the writer. Allow him time to look over your comments and the editing checklist.
  6. Discuss your praise and edits.

Peer Editing Helps

This Lesson plan at ReadWriteThink includes some very helpful guidelines:

Peer Editing Checklists

Insights

We scheduled two hours, and we needed every minute. Doing peer editing well does take quite a bit of time.

On the upside, the preparation work for me was minimal. All I did was print out some checklists and writing aids.

Some pairs preferred to go off by themselves to discuss the edits. Fortunately we had a large space of three rooms to work in. I don’t think that a small area would work at all.

I read each child’s essay and gave some specific feedback. Later I realized that Sprite didn’t have another adult read her essay, so next time I will request that one of the mom’s read her essay (besides me).

The children seemed to benefit from the process and from seeing the work of other middle schoolers. In the same ways, the moms felt confirmed that they were on the right track after seeing how their children’s writing compared to others.

We plan to make the peer editing co-op a monthly event.

Have any of you done a peer editing co-op? How did it go?

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