How to Get Your Students to (Finally) Successfully Peer-Edit

February 12, 2018

How do you teach students to successfully peer-edit and self-edit their essays? Do effective strategies even exist to teach students to make meaningful edits? Finally, there is a fun and engaging peer-editing protocol that really works. All content teachers are now expected to teach ELA, reading and writing skills. This fun editing activity is the perfect way to do just that. Teach students to successfully edit their writing assignments – and to enjoy the process. Perfect for 5th – 12th grade writing centers, this peer-editing activity encourages three “partners” to act as the “lawyer,” “surgeon” and “counselor” to offer comprehensive peer feedback on in-class essays.

In the “lawyer-surgeon-counselor peer-edit” activity, set aside 30 – 45 minutes for groups of three students to peer-edit. Simply assign each group member one of the three “professions.” Then allow three increments of 10 – 15 minutes for students to read and edit both of their peers’ and their own paper. Students will improve their editing skills by only focusing on the editing tasks of their assigned “profession” below:

The Lawyer

The “lawyer” focuses on overall argument effectiveness. They offer advice on how to make the argument and evidence logical and relevant to convince the reader to agree. Possible comments and edits include:

  • Unsupported claim here.
  • Weak opening / closing.
  • Strong Thesis/Not so strong thesis.
  • You could improve your thesis if you said…
  • How does this evidence support your argument?
  • I’m not quite sure why this is relevant.
  • This point is not valid or supported.

The Surgeon

The “surgeon” focuses on small, intricate details of grammar and syntax. They surgically removes content, fixes grammatical illnesses, diagnoses problems and offers remedies to heal or repair the essay. Possible comments and edits include:

  • Remove “you” and replace with “one” or “a person.”
  • Weak word choice: Replace with a different word.
  • Add more examples from your own experience, from history or from current events.
  • Add or remove extra details on these points.
  • Cut this sentence; it weakens your argument or is unnecessary.
  • Add a comma, semicolon, or quotation marks.
  • Fix this misspelled word, run-on, fragment, subject-verb agreement, comma, etc.
  • Vary sentence structures to create sentence complexity.

The Counselor

The “counselor” offers generalized honest compliments and constructive advice. They ask clarifying questions and provide positive feedback. Possible comments and edits include:

  • On first reading, I don’t understand what you mean here.
  • You told me this already in the second paragraph.
  • You’ve got me hooked here! But I need more details!
  • I need more background information to understand what you are saying here.
  • All is clear here!
  • This detail distracts from your main point or purpose.
  • Maybe consider saying it this way…

Normally, students “fail” at peer-editing and self-editing because they lack a clear focus. Sometimes, students are simply too bored to be engaged. The “lawyer-surgeon-counselor peer-edit” protocol gives students specific tasks for fun, focused and effective editing.

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