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Improve Student Writing with Peer Feedback

December 6, 2021 • Lori Jacobson

Peer feedback makes assignments more social and collaborative, creating opportunities for students to learn from one another. In conversations about shared assignments, students can make connections to lectures, readings, and other course elements. They can also use time in feedback groups to clarify the goals of the assignment and discover varied methods for fulfilling those goals. Collaborative learning helps mitigate the isolation some students feel when working independently.

Most importantly, a peer group is a real audience. The effort of articulating their ideas for peers helps students recognize gaps in logic and the need for context. As a result, they develop a stronger audience awareness and learn to produce more reader-friendly prose.

Building peer feedback into assignments helps students see revision as an essential part of the writing process. Drafting assignments for their peer groups well ahead of the final deadline allows time for constructive feedback and revision.

But successful peer feedback doesn’t just happen. It requires planning and some dedicated class time for preparation.

Before their first peer feedback session, prepare students to do high-quality peer review.

1. Start by asking them to reflect on the qualities of good feedback:

For one minute, write a response to the following prompt:
“When I receive feedback on my writing, I find it most helpful when _______________________.”

Then facilitate a discussion where they generate a best practices list called “How to Give Effective Feedback.” This list can guide their peer groups for the remainder of the semester.

2. Teach students to respond as intelligent, compassionate readers.

One reason peer feedback sometimes fails is that students don’t always feel competent judging someone else’s writing. Reassure them that they can make observations based on their experience as readers. For example, a student responding as a reader might say: “I really liked all the details you provided in this paragraph because I got a clear picture of your main idea, but then I got a little lost in the next paragraph. What was the point you were trying to make there?”

3. Ask students to resist the urge to copy edit. Instead, they should offer feedback on big-picture issues such as ideas, purpose, audience, evidence, analysis, and organization.

4. Give students guidelines to follow (for example, the rubric that will be used for grading, or a feedback form with questions to answer about the work).

5. Have them practice their feedback skills. Ask all students to read and comment on the same sample student work, using the “How to Give Effective Feedback” list for guidance. Then review their feedback as a class.

It’s critical to get student buy-in on peer feedback so they understand it as essential to the writing process (not busy work). Here are a few ideas to promote peer feedback as a skill:

Emphasize that giving and receiving feedback are lifelong skills used by most professionals. Practicing these skills in your class is preparing them for future success.

Demonstrate the role of peer feedback in your own work. Bring in an example of an article, conference proposal, etc. that you received comments on, and show how that feedback translated into revisions.

Remind them of the giver’s gain: giving feedback benefits students just as much as receiving it (and perhaps more). When a student identifies a particular concern in a peer’s work, she is much more likely to recognize the same concern in her own. In this way, peer feedback encourages students to become more competent editors of their own work.

Improving Student Peer Feedback
Benefits of Peer Review
Using Peer Review to Help Students Improve their Writing
Giver’s Gain in Peer Learning
Giver’s Gain: How to Improve Student Writing by Coaching Helpful Feedback in Peer Response Groups [VIDEO]

© 2021 Lori Jacobson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Meet the Author

Lori Jacobson

Director, Writing Resources Center

Lori serves as the director of the Writing Resources Center located at Swem Library. Lori’s areas of focus include writing center studies, pedagogy, nineteenth-century American literature and culture, young adult literature. View Lori’s professional profile.