Workshop Recap: The World of the Text: Using Wiki Platforms to Navigate Difficult Readings

by Marissa Brostoff

View the PowerPoint from the workshop here.

Every semester for a long time I encountered the same problem: some text on my syllabus—a novel, a work of literary theory, whatever—was just too difficult to teach in the time I had allotted for it. You might know the feeling. But what is to be done? There’s other material to get to, and there’s no way of making Bleak House shorter or an excerpt from Orientalism less dense.

And yet, I’ve discovered, while some course content may be irreducibly long or difficult, students’ experiences of it can alter dramatically if we change the structure of the class assignments that address it. The default class assignment for many of us is the short paper. But asking students to write four to six pages making an argument about some aspect of Madame Bovary, as I had done in the past, may be an inherently lost cause. Students typically overreach and make a vague argument about the whole text instead of a focused one that concentrates on one thorny element of it. You can try and persuade them to narrow their focus, but I think some of the resistance this meets comes from an understandable sense of indignation—“We read a 400-page novel and you want me to ‘unpack’ two lines?” When grasping the whole text, even at the most basic level of comprehension, is a major challenge already, choosing one revealing element of it may be a baffling task.

I want to propose an alternative kind of assignment: ask your students to create a Wiki about the challenging material. (I’ve been using literary texts as an example of what this material looks like, but it might alternately be a unit in the course, like “Theories of Child Development,” or even the topic of the course itself, like “Organic Chemistry.”) So: what is a Wiki? And what can it do for us here?

Wikipedia, the world’s largest Wiki site, defines a Wiki as “a type of website that allows users to add, remove, or otherwise edit and change most content very quickly and easily.” There are dozens of Wiki platforms available on the internet and free to the public, or at least to educators, including Wikia, PBWorks, and Wikispaces. (Blackboard has a Wiki-building tool as well.) Many college instructors use these platforms to build class Wikis for a range of purposes: posting syllabi, hosting a class blog that students can post to, hosting portfolios of student work, creating a space for students to collaborate on group projects, and so on. Here’s a great example from a specialized writing course at City College that does several of these things.

Because Wikis, unlike most websites, are designed to be collaboratively edited, they are particularly useful for collective knowledge-gathering. Wikipedia’s scope, like that of a traditional encyclopedia, is almost limitless in breadth, but there are tons of Wikis out there devoted to smaller but still complex worlds, from Gravity’s Rainbow to Game of Thrones.

Wikis are therefore ideal as a platform for students to construct a world of knowledge around any complicated text or topic. Each student or group of students only has to be responsible for one small piece of the site, but together these add up to something more comprehensive. This is especially true if students are asked to explore each other’s Wiki pages and create links between them (i.e., in a Wiki about the world of Jane Eyre, the student writing a page on Mr. Rochester might link to a classmate’s page on Bertha Mason when Bertha’s name appears, and vice-versa).

Here are two beautiful examples of what this kind of content-based class Wiki can look like: one from a humanities course at the University of New South Wales called “Censorship and Responsibility” that students used to map philosophical perspectives on freedom and liberty, and one from a chemistry course at the University of Illinois in which students were asked (brilliantly) to create entries about phenomena like the greenhouse effect in a way that would be legible to middle schoolers. If you’re worried that you and your class won’t be able to build such a professional-looking site on your first try—that’s okay too! There are plenty of more amateur-looking class Wikis out there, and they get the job done just as well.

If you’re ready to get started, here are some things to think about:

-What Wiki platform will you use? I think PBWorks is particularly user-friendly; a video tutorial for it is here. But you might want to check out a couple of platforms to see what works best for you.

-What are the parameters of your classroom Wiki? Do you want to create a Wiki that will carry you throughout the semester, from posting your syllabus to having students turn in final work, or a dedicated student space for the kind of project discussed above?

-Do you want students to create their own pages and link them together at the end of the process, or do you want them to work in groups throughout the project?

-Do you have a Smart Board to demonstrate to your students how the Wiki platform works, or (ideally) access to a computer lab where everyone can experiment and troubleshoot together?

-What do you want each student-authored Wiki page to include? If students are required to cite their sources, what format should they use? Should each page include links? An analysis section? Wikipedia may be a good model for questions like these.

-What criteria will you use to evaluate students, or groups, on their contributions? One thing to consider here is that you might use the Wiki project as a jumping-off point for a writing assignment where students are asked to write a more traditional argumentative paper that draws on the knowledge they’ve curated on their Wiki page.

One final word for using Wikis this way: a student-authored Wiki does not need to be put to bed forever just because the semester has ended. If you are the site’s administrator and you teach the same material in a later semester, your new students can further develop the Wiki that your former students began. Unlike a paper, a Wiki has no ending, and if the material it covers is sufficiently complex, it can just keep growing. This is a unique opportunity for your students to create knowledge that will have an audience beyond you and beyond their classmates.

Happy Wikiing!

Writing Across the Curriculum Spring Workshop Series

We’re excited to announce our Spring Faculty Development Workshops. Developed by the Writing Across the Curriculum Program Writing Fellows, in collaboration with the Program Coordinators, these workshops aim to assist faculty in exploring new ways to approach formal and informal writing assignments.

All workshops will be held at the Faculty Center for Professional Development, 1L, 203. We hope you can join us!

Monday, March 23, 1:00-2:30
Words and Images: Approaches to Visual Texts in the Classroom
Led by Writing Fellow Yair Solan, this workshop considers  current research on visual literacy and its implications for pedagogy. We will also cover several approaches to visual images, from close reading strategies and rhetorical analyses to possibilities for integrating visual material into course content.

Monday, March 30, 1:00-2:30
Before and After the Library Session: Navigating the Research Process
Designed by Writing Fellow Christopher Eng, this workshop will help faculty structure research papers and help students to get the most out of library information sessions.

Tuesday, April 14, 1:00-2:30
The World of the Text: Using Wiki Platforms to Navigate Difficult Readings
Writing Fellow Marissa Brostoff will lead this workshop on using wiki tools to help students annotate difficult texts and build a “critical edition.”

Monday, April 27, 1:00-2:30
Group Projects Done Right
This workshop, led by Josh Keton, will provide strategies to create a more democratic classroom through collaborative group projects.

Public Speaking and Writing

by Christen Madsen

For all the emphasis that writing is given in the the academy as a way of honing critical thinking skills, the other modes of communication can easily be overlooked. Speaking, visual, and electronic communication round out the list of equally effective and necessary modes of communication of which writing is just one.

Public speaking is not limited just to attorneys, politicians and academics presenting a paper. While many of our students will not give a formal speech to an audience of hundreds, effective and fluent public speaking is required in common settings like weddings, funerals, business presentations and even telling a story at a party.

Unfortunately a public speaking class is not required at CSI. Many classes already include group presentation or informal speaking opportunities but this is often to compliment a written paper or project. Next semester consider replacing your term paper or other writing assignments with a speech.

Speeches and Critical Thinking

A core principle of WAC/WID programs in many universities is “writing to learn” whereby one uses writing activities “. . . to promote deep learning of the course’s ideas, concepts, and skills” (1). We can extend this to the other modes of communication so that one can incorporate “speaking to learn” by using public speaking activities to encourage engagement of the course material, mastery of the course concepts, organization of one’s own ideas, and development of essential critical thinking skills.

The aims of many courses at CSI is not memorization of facts and details (although there are courses in which this is central), but an engagement with the ideas and concepts. The students often have to evaluate arguments, and create their own logically structured argument in response to those they read.

These same critical thinking skills can be developed, fostered, and evaluated by not only writing assignments like term papers but also by public speaking assignments like persuasive speeches and informative speeches. Speeches, like a term paper, require the effective communication of an argument/thesis supported by clear main points with transitions and a concise conclusion delivered in a coherent, logically organized fashion.

Speeches instead of term papers

Where speeches differ from traditional written assignments is that they are given in a medium and using a form of language that is fundamental. Most people begin speaking/signing at a very young age and have mastered oral communication. People are masters as responding to a listener, incorporating overt and subtle feedback from listeners, controlling and manipulating register, and conveying information in an interesting and engaging way. Writing is something that is laboriously learned relatively much later in life. Writing in an academic setting is also burdened by a large number of arbitrary, prescriptive rules whose violation can impede focus on the content of a student’s work. Spoken language has less of these “rules” and as listeners we naturally focus on communication and meaning and subconsciously correct both real and prescriptive errors. A student’s split infinitive is unnoticed in a speech and a student can be almost only evaluated on effective and logical argumentation. This can be a benefit to an instructor who is often exercising
considerable restraint to not over-correct or over-markup a term paper. Another benefit is that speeches can provide a obvious audience for a student’s work in a way that writing a term paper or homework assignment doesn’t. (1) The student is giving the speech directly to their audience; An audience that is not only being addressed but actively listening. The student responds and adapts to their audience’s cues to create an authentic exchange that focuses on conveying a message successfully. This kind of real-time adaptation is impossible with a written text which is evaluated weeks after it was created. The student often doesn’t have an opportunity to correct or clarify in response to feedback.

Speeches Help Writing

One might worry that a focus on public speaking and a de-emphasis on graded, carefully edited terms papers could result in a decline in writing skills, or at the very least an absence of improvement. This is not the case as students’ writing skills are improved by the inclusion of public speaking. Speeches in a class improve not only a student’s confidence in expressing their opinion, but also improves their writing skills in the use of following formal and informal conventions of writing as well as use of clear language. (2)

Selling Public Speaking to Students

Public speaking can be a daunting task for students, and even us as teachers. In fact is it terrifying for many and more people agree that it is a fear of theirs, more than even death or financial problems. Men cite speaking before a group to be their number one fear and for women fear of public speaking is only outranked by death. (3). It is so stressful that simulated public speaking is used to study fear (4) and anxiety. (5)

This anxiety can be reduced by proper scaffolding, preparation, practice, and learning and practicing public speaking techniques, relaxation, and visualization. (6) You should remind students that while public speaking can be terrifying, and may always be, the more they practice the better they will get at it. They may not become less terrified of public speaking but they will become better at it. If they practice enough they can look natural and sound natural but may not feel natural.

Implementing Speeches

You can very easily try out speeches in your next course with very minor tweaking of your existing materials. All the scaffolded exercises you have already developed for your term paper can be adapted for use with a speech as the final product. You can still require drafts of the speech for you to provide feedback on. Practice talks with a partner or a small group takes the place of peer editing of drafts.

A final class session of 2–5 minute talks for a class of 35 students will take less than 3 hours. You can make this into a mini-conference and have the other student ask questions, critique each other, and even vote on a “best speech award.”

The best part of speeches is that your grading of the final projects is done immediately. The students can get their grade as soon as they are done. You don’t have a stack of final papers to grade over the holidays and actually get the feedback from the assignments that they work very hard on. Next semester consider incorporating other modes of communication in your classes. Term papers and writing are not the only way of teaching and evaluating learning and critical thinking in the classroom. Public speaking is an important skill that every student can benefit from regardless of their major or future career goals.

Online Resources for Public Speaking

[1] Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass: San Fransisco.

[2] Ah Yun, K., Costantini, C., & Billingsley, S. (2012). The e↵ect of taking
a public speaking class on one’s writing ability. Communication Research Reports. 29(4): 285–291.

[3] Dwyer, K.K., & Davidson, M.M. (2012). Communication Research Reports. 29(2): 99–107.

[4] Garcia-Leal, C., Graeff, F.G., & Del-Ben, C.M. (2014). Experimental public speaking: Contributions to the understanding of the serotonergic modulation of fear. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

[5] de Oliveira, D.C.G., Zuardi, A.W., Grae↵, F.G., Queiroz, R.H.C., & Crippa, J.A.S. (2011). Anxiolytic-like effect of oxytocin in the simulated public speaking test. Journal of Psychoparmacology. 26(4): 497–504.

[6] Docan-Morgan, T., & Schmidt, T. (2012). Reducing public speaking anxiety for native and non-native English speakers: The value of systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring, and skills training. Cross-Cultural Communication. 8(5): 16–19.

A Guide to Quickly and Effectively Gathering Comprehensive Student Feedback

by Joshua Keaton

Now that our courses are over—or mostly over—it is time to reflect on what went well and what went poorly, and wait anxiously for those student evaluations that might give you some insight. If you are like us, then you often have a vague notion that some sessions went well, some not so well, and some were average. If you are even more like us, you probably aren’t sure exactly what features of particular sessions account for the three different outcomes. And those evaluations you are waiting for? While some feedback is better than no feedback, we all know those student evaluations aren’t that helpful. Student evaluations are pitched at too general a level to tell us precisely what works and what doesn’t, and they always come too late to help us teach better in the classes we are in. For these reasons, we suggest the possibility of incorporating the Critical Incidence Questionnaire into your course. Using such questionnaires provides you with anonymized feedback throughout the term that will allow you to focus in particular sessions, assignments, reading, lectures, etc.

Brookfield and Presskill’s questionnaire consists of the following five questions:

  1. At what moment in the class this week were you most engaged as a learner?
  2. At what moment in class this week were you most distanced as a learner?
  3. What action that anyone in the room took this week did you find the most affirming or helpful?
  4. What action that anyone in the room took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  5. What surprised you most this week?

By inviting student responses to these questions you will be provided with data that is specific to the sessions you have recently taught. You can tell students to prepare them before class and turn them in once a week, or provide a few minutes of class time each week to the task. Not only do you receive feedback on your most recent teaching efforts, but students gain by being able to reflect on the course and their role in the course. All too often the rush to disseminate or assimilate course content pushes out all other concerns both in the mind of the instructor and the student. The CIQ can facilitate the process of learning by focusing both students and instructors on their roles in the classroom, and call their attention to the substance of the course, by highlighting the most noteworthy, interesting, and difficult moments in the course.

Of course, one need not stick with precisely these questions. The questions can be modified to focus on discipline- or instructor-specific concerns, such as: lectures, group-work, readings, labs, or assignments. Like any other assignment a more tailored, critically engaged question is more likely to provoke specific, critically engaged answers.

If you find yourself wondering what made one class, lecture, assignment, group project, etc. better or worse than another, consider doing the obvious—but strangely unintuitive—thing; just ask your students!

Brookfield, S.D., and Preskill, S. Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. (2nd ed.) San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Freewriting Tips and Techniques

writingby Yair Solan

Instructors, have you noticed your students zoning out during lectures? Has it been difficult to get them to participate in class or to maintain discussions? Are they having a hard time with the course material? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then freewriting can help!

Freewriting is ungraded in-class writing that is designed to help students understand and reflect upon course content, prepare for class discussions, and develop their ideas prior to more formal writing assignments. These relatively unedited yet focused writing activities can be useful at any part of a class session or semester. Freewriting assignments may be completed at the beginning of class as a warm up exercise for students or to revive a discussion in the middle of the period.

The following post includes several ways in which one might integrate simple freewriting activities in courses across a wide range of academic disciplines.

Please note: It is always a good idea to remind students to write continuously during freewriting sessions and to alert them in advance when their work will be collected, or if volunteers will be solicited to share their responses with the class.

  • Open Class with Freewriting on a Relevant Topic:
    • When? At the very start of class.
    • How? Pose a question or raise an issue central to that day’s class. This can also be done by assigning the freewrite for homework and then discussing it at the beginning of class.
    • Why? To prepare students for the day’s lecture or for discussion. Such an exercise asks students to explore and think about the course material, promoting active learning during lectures and readying students for a lively discussion.
  • Ask Students to Write a Summary of a Lecture:
    • When? Immediately following a class lecture.
    • How? Ask students to write a concentrated summary of the material. This can be one page long or as short as a concise paragraph. You might consider collecting and reading these summaries, giving credit to those students who turned in this assignment.
    • Why? Writing a synopsis of a class lecture may not only compel students to become more deeply involved with the subject matter, but also allows instructors to make changes to the way in which they present course content based on what they have learned from the students’ summaries.
  • Have Students Generate Questions:
    • When? After students have completed a particularly difficult reading.
    • How? Ask students to generate lists of questions raised by the text for homework; this activity can also be continued at the beginning of class. The freewrite may be collected, or volunteers can share their questions with the class. This can also be done in small groups, where each group has to reach a consensus on one or two central questions that its members would like to discuss with the class as a whole.
    • Why? This activity encourages students’ critical engagement with the course content while suggesting areas which may require clarification by the instructor.
  • Assign “Minute Papers”:
    • When? In the middle of class, following the discussion of especially important course concepts.
    • How? Ask students to freewrite a very brief paper in response to a question which assesses their understanding of the course material. Possible questions may include: “what key term(s) are important for understanding this concept and how are they defined?”, “what is puzzling you after listening to this lecture?”, or “how is the topic introduced in today’s class related to our previous discussion?”
    • Why? Aside from offering valuable feedback for the instructor and prompting students to pause and think about the concepts discussed, this freewrite also helps students refocus their attention in the second half of the class period.
  • Freewrite to Stimulate Class Discussion:
    • When? At a moment when students are not readily participating in a discussion.
    • How? Ask students to freewrite for several minutes in response to a particularly important query. Following this, volunteers can read their freewrites to the class and elicit their peers’ reactions. Alternately, it may be productive to have students share their ideas with each other in groups before discussing with the entire class.
    • Why? This exercise gives students some time to reflect upon the issues raised in class and to formulate their responses or questions. Also, for those students who are nervous about speaking in front of the whole class, discussing their reactions in small groups first might help them build confidence in their own ideas.
  • If Class Discussion is Intense, Ask Students to Freewrite Their Contributions:
    • When? Following particularly heated discussions.
    • How? Ask students to stop for a few minutes and have them individually freewrite the contribution they wish to make to the class’s conversation. After this freewriting session, volunteers can be invited to summarize their responses for the class. If discussion continues until the end of the class, it may be beneficial to keep this conversation going by asking students to post their responses to the course’s online discussion board or blog.
    • Why? This freewriting activity gives students the time and space to clarify their arguments and to develop their reactions without being interrupted. It also allows students to see the connection between their verbal participation in the classroom and their written work in the course.

Adapted from John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom

The Believing Game: The Art of Summarizing Arguments

by Marissa Brostoff

One of the most deceptively tricky writing skills to teach college students is the art of summarizing arguments. In our rush to insist that the heart of the academic paper is the student’s own argument—and, therefore, to steer them away from the habits of “regurgitation” they may have learned in high school—it’s easy to forget that summing up the arguments of others is itself a creative, vital, and difficult part of the writing process. So how can we reframe this humble art to give it the respect it deserves?

Composition and rhetoric theorist Peter Elbow has been working on this problem for decades. In Elbow’s reframing of the problem, there are two ways to approach an argument. The first is what we commonly describe as critique or “critical thinking.” Elbow calls this approach a “doubting game” that “teaches us to extricate or detach ourselves from ideas” in order to call them into question. The second is a version of what literary theorists sometimes call reparative or surface reading: a strategy that “teaches us to enter into ideas—to invest or insert ourselves.” Elbow calls this “the believing game” (8).

We play the believing game, then, whenever we test out an idea by trying it on for size. But Elbow has also developed a way of playing the believing game as a literal game. Here’s how students can play:

“Write a summary of some belief that you strongly disagree with. Then write a summary of the position you actually hold on the topic. Give both summaries to a classmate or two, and see if they can tell which position you endorse. If you’ve succeeded, they won’t be able to tell” (Graff and Birkenstein 38).

In our experience, everyone loves this game (this also makes it a good icebreaker at the start of the semester). In the original version, students are asked to come up with their own topics individually (they will likely run the gamut from “cats vs. dogs” to “the death penalty”). This approach works well in writing classrooms, where learning to argue a position is an end in and of itself. In content-based courses, you can adapt the game so that students are asked to come up with arguments that take opposing positions on something you’ve been discussing in class. For instance, in an ethics class, you might ask students to take different positions on a single ethical dilemma; in a structural engineering course, you might ask them to come up with opposing conclusions drawn from the same data set about where to build a bridge.

Either way, give everyone a few minutes to write their two summaries; ask them to pair up, switch off, and guess which argument represented the writer’s actual position; and then discuss the results as a group.

The fun of the game lies in the fact that it’s genuinely hard to win, or at least to know in advance that you’ll win—either as a writer or as a guesser. If you ask for a show of hands—Who successfully duped their partner? Who successfully guessed their partner’s true opinion?—you’ll most likely get a mixed bag. And that raises important questions about argumentation that the class can discuss together:

Was it easier to argue for or against your own position, and why?

Did your rhetorical approach change as you moved from one to the other?

As a guesser, were you able to figure out the writer’s “tell”?

Did your guess rely on assumptions about authorship—i.e., an extra-textual hunch about your partner’s opinions?

Did you project your own views onto your partner?

This is one of these exercises that reminds you that everyone would be a good academic writer—and reader—if they could just channel their everyday rhetorical and epistemological skill set into the work of the classroom. Let the games begin!

Works Cited:

Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014.

Elbow, Peter. “The Believing Game—Methodological Believing.” The Selected Works of Peter Elbow, 2008.

So Many Students, So Little Time: Using Peer Review Sessions to Workshop Student Research Papers

by Danielle DeNigris

Student research papers are rarely enjoyable for neither the students who write them nor the instructors who grade them. Many instructors, including myself, may have assigned these papers at the end of term and have been frustrated with the outcome—perhaps due to rampant use of plagiarism, disorganization, or the use of random facts. Why might this be? For one, there are many steps and skills that go into writing a good research paper and the ability to do so may be more difficult for the novice, undergraduate student than we, as instructors, may even realize. Specifically, writing across the curriculum researcher John Bean (2011) highlights three things that have a significant impact on student research projects:

(1) Student misconceptions about research: Students may enter your course having little experience writing a research paper. Their only experience may be from high school in which they were asked to write “all-about” papers in which they jammed as much information about a topic from textbooks and reference books that they could find.

(2) Faculty misconceptions about student researchers: Many faculty members may believe that students should have already learned to write research papers in their first-year English Composition class. However, although students are taught this style of writing, research papers vary greatly across disciplines and genres. An English research paper will no doubt be dramatically different from a Psychology or Biology or Sociology research paper.

(3) Difficulty of the sub-skills embedded within research projects: Research requires an understanding of the discipline itself, the types of questions that are appropriate to research, how to find scholarly sources, how to incorporate and properly cite these sources, and an understanding of the audience and genre of the paper. These skills can be difficult to grasp and therefore may seem overwhelming to the inexperienced undergraduate researcher. In my experience, I have found that only a handful of students demonstrate the ability to incorporate, interpret, and properly cite relevant sources in their papers clearly and effectively.

How peer review sessions can help YOUR STUDENTS:

Peer review sessions can help students understand the steps involved in writing a “good” research paper and enables students to talk through their ideas with other students. Bouncing ideas off of another student allows for feedback on the clarity of their work and provides an idea of how readers may respond to their writing. Peer review sessions also expose students to a range of perspectives, rather than just the instructor’s, similar to the peer-review process for scholarly journals (but with more scaffolding!).

How peer review sessions can help YOU:

Incorporating peer review sessions into the classroom can help to cut down time spent on reading drafts and grading papers. By having students work on each other’s drafts you won’t need to spend time reading each draft. Instead, you can simply read students’ notes and comments from the peer review sessions to determine where your students are at as a whole and any problems they may be having with the writing process (You can then address this issues in class). You can also make an informed decision regarding the need to meet individually with select students who may be struggling (For more information on strategies for successful one-on-one conferences see last week’s blog post).

“I have a large class. Now what?”

Sometimes in large classrooms it is hard to keep all students motivated and on-task. Try having students turn in their notes about each of their partners’ papers at the end of the class to be graded as a low-stakes assignment or participation grade. By requiring students to produce something at the end of the peer review session, it helps to keep them focused. Then hand these back to the student whose paper it refers to so that they can use this when writing or editing their papers.

Additionally, make sure to move all throughout the room to field any questions students have while they are working. By having structured peer review sessions, you can limit the amount of “what should I be reviewing?” questions you would need to answer allowing you to observe more groups.

Implementing peer review sessions: Two examples

The examples provided below are in no way extensive. Peer review sessions can be a wonderful way to workshop research proposals, annotated reference lists, and outlines. Additionally, the examples provided below can be modified to fit the needs of any writing assignment (e.g., term papers, reaction papers, low-stakes assignments, summaries, etc.), not just the research paper.


Assign students to pairs and have them take turns asking each other the following questions:

  • What question is your paper going to address?
  • Why is this idea interesting to research? How does it fit within the field or body of literature?
  • What is your one sentence answer to the research question your paper addresses? Note to Students: If the writer doesn’t have a good thesis statement yet, you can move on to the next question and come back to this one. At that point you may be able to help them develop a thesis statement.
  • What is the support for your thesis? Talk me through your argument and explain any ideas you have so far. Note to Students: The writer should do most of the talking, however, you should respond with suggestions, bring up additional ideas, ask questions, play devil’s advocate, etc.


Assign students to groups of four (or combine two pairs from example 1). Have students email a copy of their draft to their group members prior to the peer-review session. Each student should then come to the peer review session having read their group members’ drafts.

  • Have students make three columns on three separate sheets of paper (one for each paper they will review) with three headings: +, , and ?



In this column, note aspects of the draft that worked well (e.g., clear thesis statement, proper formatting, strong evidence supporting the thesis, etc.) In this column, note aspects of the draft that were problematic or any negative reactions you had while reading (e.g., unclear ideas/writing style, weak evidence, improper formatting, etc.) In this column, note any questions or comments you had while reading the paper (e.g., places that need clarification or more development.)
  • Students do this for one draft at a time. After the first draft is commented on, each student takes turns explaining to the writer what he or she wrote down in the three different columns.   At this point the reviewers do not give advice, they only comment and the writer jots down any notes while listening to the reviews.
  • After each of the three reviewers has spoken, the writer can then engage them in conversation about suggestions for review.
  • The group then repeats this process for the remaining drafts.

General Tips: Encourage students to reformulate their ideas through conversation with their partner/group rather than reading from their notes/drafts. Talking through a project can help students who are struggling with the development of their arguments to get feedback on the clarity of their work and suggestions for improvement.