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Peer Editing Strategies for College English

Updated on April 11, 2016
VirginiaLynne profile image

After over 20 years of teaching college English, VirginiaLynne loves to share tips, teaching plans, and information about the profession.

Why Peer Workshops are Important

Peer editing helps students to see their own errors as well as giving them help from other students.

Over my 20 years of teaching, I've discovered that students learn a lot from seeing the work of their peers. Writer's who work in isolation with only teacher lecturing or whole class instruction don't always get the feedback or examples they need to push to the next level of writing. Because peer workshops make all students get involved, they learn more. In addition, students are often more motivated by the approval or disapproval of peers to work harder on their papers.

When students read essays by a peer they don't just help that student improve, they also get ideas to help them re-write their own paper. Sometimes, they simply get ideas for more effective structuring, or if they have not written a good outline, they will see how other students did the work and have a better chance of doing their draft correctly.

How I use Peer Workshops

Students work either in pairs or small groups for a workshop, except for writer's chair, which is done as a whole class activity. Sometimes the size of the group depends on how much class time I have for that workshop. Pairs go fastest. However, I prefer groups of about 4. Sometimes I allow students to form their own groups, and other times I number them off, or give them numbered cards which form them into groups. If they are working on a similar topic, I sometimes will group them by topic.

College English

Exploratory Paper.
Exploratory Paper. | Source

Peer Workshop for Outline

Before my students actually write their paper, I find that it helps to have them talk the paper out first in small groups. Their homework assignment is to write an outline of their paper and to be ready to share in class. I put them in groups of 3-5 and instruct them to share their outlines one at a time. They are given the worksheet below to use as they share. After they have shared in small groups, I have a few of the students share with the whole class. This gives me an opportunity to give feedback and instruction.

Outline Peer Editing Worksheet

Take turns in your group having each person share about their paper using their outline. Then the group can respond with questions, comments and suggestions. Some things to consider:

  1. Is introduction interesting? Do you feel you understand the issue and the question?
  2. Do the question and the three positions match up? Is there a contrast in the positions? Are their other positions you think need to be considered?
  3. Is the context/constraints of the question clear?
  4. Is there other supporting evidence you can think of?
  5. Is the response interesting? Does the author respond to the ideas and connect them with their own thoughts and/or experiences? How can they do that better?
  6. Anything you think is missing or needs to be explained or expanded?

Peer editing can be on computers or hard copy


Peer Editing Draft

After the students have discussed their outline, they are ready to write their full draft. They are instructed to make sure it is a complete paper with an introduction, body, and conclusion. When they come to class, they are put in groups to do peer editing on each other's papers. I usually use groups of 4-6 and ask them to do at least two papers.

Peer Editing Worksheet for Exploratory Essay


  1. Underline: your question, the three positions, your position
  2. Wavy underline: author tags and citations.

Write (at top of draft or on a separate sheet of paper):

  1. What is best about your paper.
  2. Questions you have for the peer editor.
  3. What you want them to help you with.

Peer Editor (put your name at the top of the draft paper—editor #____________)

I. Read the paper and make marks on the draft about:

  • grammar and spelling errors
  • what you think is good
  • where they need more support
  • where they need better transitions
  • where they need references, citations or author tags (or any problems with ones they have)
  • where they need more explanation or description

II. On a separate sheet of paper write:


  1. Is the issue both defined and described?
  2. Anything that needs to be added?
  3. Was the opening interesting?
  4. How could it be improved?


  1. How well does the paper examine the rhetorical situation? (exigence [reason for this debate]
  2. audience [who is interested in this issue]
  3. constraints [situations and attitudes which affect the debate])
  4. Is there any part missing? How can it be improved?
  5. Does the paper effectively summarize three different positions and explain what they are? Who believes them? Why do they believe it?
  6. Does the paper give enough evidence for each position?


  1. Does the author respond to the issue and give an interesting perspective?
  2. Does the author need to add anything?

III. Editing 2nd and 3rd paper

When you finish peer editing your first paper, then do a second peer edit and a third if you have time. Put your name at the top of each paper as editor #2 etc. On a second edit, go ahead and read the other editor’s comments and add what you think would be helpful.

Peer Editing Quiz

Do you use peer editing in your English class?

See results

Why Peer Editing Works

Peer editing helps students compare their work to others and learn.
Peer editing helps students compare their work to others and learn. | Source

What are Exploratory Essays?

Exploratory essays are used to examine the different perspectives that people have on an arguable issue. In my college English Rhetoric class, which uses the textbook Perspectives on Argument by Nancy Woods, we begin with gathering sources and writing a Summary, Analysis and Response Paper. Next we take those sources and write up an Exploratory Paper which examines these issues. Before they write their paper, I have students make an outline, following my instructions in How to Write an Exploratory Paper. They bring the outline to class and use the first worksheet below to do a peer discussion about their outline.

Writer's Workshop: Whole Class Listening and Responding

I started doing Writer's Workshop because I realized that some students often had excellent comments on student papers, but other students did not have very well developed editing skills. Writer's Workshop allows students to learn how to evaluate papers, along with allowing me to instruct students within the context of an actual student paper example.

Writer's Workshop happens on the day that we turn in Final Drafts. I have about 3-4 students sign up for Writer's Workshop on each essay. The advantage of signing up for Workshop is that they get not only additional editing help but also another day before their paper is due.

On Writer's Workshop, the students stand up in front of the class and read their paper. Usually, I ask them to bring 10 copies or so for students to read and follow along. As the student reads, their peers write comments. Afterwards, we take oral comments and I have students each writes an answer to two questions:

  • What is well done on the draft?
  • What could be improved?

These two simple questions are usually all that I need to get the class comments to both give positive and helpful feedback. I usually give my comments at the end, being sure to notice anyone whose peer editing ideas were very good. Sometimes, at the first Writer's Workshop, students are a bit reluctant to speak, but I've definitely noticed that everyone in the class gets better at editing as a result of this class instruction. I know that I've accomplished my goal when, after listening to the student's comments, I have to say I have nothing to add because they've said everything I wanted to say!


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    • profile image

      Byron Crosby 6 months ago

      Thank you for the new outlook on peer editing

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Welcome to Hubpages Kittyjj! There are lots of people here on Hubpages that are so helpful in giving ideas and writing help. Also, the Hubpages learning center is terrific.

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 6 years ago from San Jose, California

      Great ideas! I am learning to write and definitely need other people's help to edit my works.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Glad you liked them Joan. I'm hoping they help other English instrutors.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Kimberly!

    • profile image

      Joan Whetzel 6 years ago

      These are some great ideas.

    • KimberlyLake profile image

      Kimberly Lake 6 years ago from California

      Thank you sharing your knowledge and insight. This is an interesting article. Socially shared.