Solve crises and encourage good feedback
Writers’ Workshop

Helpful Peer Feedback
Teaching kids how to give meaningful feedback on one another’s work is a big challenge.

These activities can help.

1. Golden Words
Focus skills: Recognizing effective language and giving positive feedback
What you need: Highlighters
What to do:
Ask students to exchange written work and read silently. Have readers look for examples of effective language. These might be places where the words make them laugh or frown. Or they could be places where the words just sound good. Highlight these “golden” words and phrases. Ask readers to choose their favorite golden words to share with the class. Discuss which words students liked and why. Return papers to the writers and ask them to think about the reader’s choices. Does the writer understand why these words were judged golden? Are there other places where the writer can improve
the language?

2. Starts and Stops
Focus skills: Mechanics, grammar, and punctuation
What you need: Highlighters
What to do:
Students exchange essays and read silently. Ask readers to highlight the beginning and ending of each sentence. Count or estimate how far apart the beginning and ending marks are. If they are far apart, underline the entire sentence as a possible run-on sentence. If they are too close, circle the sentence as a possible sentence fragment. Students can also check for run-on sentences by looking for how many verbs there are between opening and closing marks. Essays are then returned to the writers, who are asked to evaluate the underlined and circled sentences and make appropriate changes.

3. CaveMan Art
Focus skill: Using visual skills to evaluate effectiveness of organization
What you need: Paper and pens, pencils, or markers
What to do:
Challenge students to think about a visual metaphor for the work they are critiquing. For example, an expository essay about newts might result in a drawing with a big newt and a small stream of water. This response tells the writer that the essay includes lots of information about a newt, but very little information about where a newt lives. For an essay about subjects taught in school, a reader could draw a floor plan of a school and label each room with a topic. The size of each room shows how much of the essay is devoted to that subject. Be sure to allow time for the artist to explain the drawing to the writer. Note: Caveman art doesn’t have to be perfect!

4. It Feels Like…
Focus skills: Paying attention to and recording feelings
What you need: Sticky notes
What to do:
Have kids exchange work. Ask readers to pay special attention to how the writing makes them feel. Can they create a metaphor to explain the feeling, by comparing the feeling to something else? For example, exciting writing, with lots of ups and downs, might make the reader feel that he or she is riding a boat over ocean waves. Scary writing might make the reader feel like hiding. Depending on the essay’s length, you may require a certain number of responses for each essay. Have students record these responses on sticky notes and place them on the essay where the words evoked that feeling. Ask kids to exchange the essay with someone new. Keep exchanging papers until every student has read each paper, then return to the writer.

5. Gossip
Focus skill: Providing informal oral feedback (This works especially well for narrative or fiction, but it’s also useful for expository writing.)
What you need: Informal classroom environment
What to do:
Divide students into groups of three. As each student reads aloud his or her essay, the other two students are encouraged to stop the reader and ask questions, make comments, point out places that confuse them, give enthusiastic responses to “good” parts, etc. In short, the students will “gossip” their way through the paper. The writer can respond to the comments with questions of his/her own, or ask responders to clarify what they meant. The writer can also take notes for revision. Note: The comments are not supposed to be a formal critique or suggestions on how to fix the essay. Instead, encourage students to chat about the ideas, characters, etc.