Teaching Writing: Peer Editing

Teaching writing skills - peer editingTeaching writing skills can be boring because writing is traditionally a lonely, isolated pursuit; however, the ESL writing class offers many opportunities for collaboration whereby both students and the instructor can work together at various stages of the writing process.

Peer Editing – Teaching Writing Skills

Perhaps the most widespread collaborative activity in the writing classroom is peer editing – also called peer review or peer feedback.  This activity has been popularized by ESL writing texts which normally contain advice on peer editing and tear-out peer editing worksheets for students to use and share.  Peer editing offers students the opportunity to share their ideas and writing with another reader in the class, and receive constructive feedback to help them further develop a piece of writing.  This can be an excellent activity if carefully and thoughtfully introduced by the teacher.  The students must be clear on several points before diving into peer editing.

3 Important Things to Consider – Peer Editing in a Writing ESL Lesson

Students should understand the purpose of peer editing and how this purpose ties in with the nature of writing.  The biggest challenge any writer faces is developing the ability to read his or her own writing as a detached reader, rather than as the author.   A peer editor can help the writer/author to develop this ability by uncovering inappropriate assumptions about audience knowledge in the writing.

Students should understand what specific features of the writing the peer editor should focus on.  Students usually presume that feedback on writing should focus on grammar.  This is important of course, but other areas of writing such as organization, register, and vocabulary can be equally important, especially in academic contexts.

Students should understand what constitutes constructive feedback.  They need to know what kinds of comments can actually help their peer to improve their writing in terms of positive, specific feedback.  For example, a comment such as “This paragraph is not good because I can’t understand the ideas” will leave the writer with very little indication of how the paragraph might actually be improved.  An example of better feedback might be to underline a specific sentence in the writing and comment, “I don’t understand the idea in this sentence.  Maybe you can add a transition word because I think it might be related to the sentence before.  Or, maybe the sentence should be moved.”

Give Proper Instructions – Peer Editing in a Writing ESL Lesson

In short, students require some background and training before jumping into peer editing.  Without this preparation, simply asking students to exchange papers and give each other feedback can be very confusing for students because they probably won’t know how to proceed, and often students believe that any kind of editing is the teacher’s job, not theirs. Used effectively, peer editing can make a writing skills lesson fun and engaging!

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Related Reading:

Group Work in the ESL Classroom

Using Wikis in the ESL Class – Part I