Peer Reviews in the Elementary Classroom
Fostering a Creative Community of Young Writers
If you’ve ever written any piece of writing in an academic or professional setting, you’ve likely received some sort of feedback from a peer — whether you informally asked a friend to check your grammar in a paper, sent a draft of an email to a co-worker to get a second opinion on clarity, or participated in a formal workshop, we all look for another perspective on our work. Despite the individual nature of writing as a task, it’s also inherently a very communal process, inviting opportunities for collaboration, creative problem-solving, and deliberate communication.
For young writers just acclimating to the exciting, iterative, (and sometimes messy) writing process, peer reviews are an important step in learning how to evaluate, communicate, and revise.
Of course, peer reviews are only one element of many teaching practices necessary for a research-based approach to writing instruction. For a full review of the most important practices for teaching writing, see: How to Teach Writing, According to Research.
The Benefits of Peer Reviews for Young Writers
Here are just a few key benefits of peer reviews in elementary school (and, truly, for learners of all ages!)
Supports the creation of a community of writers. Ample evidence suggests that creating a community of writers is a critical practice for teaching writing. Writing communities have a positive impact on student motivation and engagement, and can even boost autonomous motivation, or writing for pleasure. Setting time aside for peer reviews and establishing a familiar, comfortable process for learners is a critical way to build a community of writers that support, inspire, and learn from each other. For more on the research behind writing communities, see this blog.
Fosters critical social and emotional skills. Peer reviews certainly won’t be the last time students must give and receive feedback. Having the self-awareness to listen and reflect on your own work, the social awareness to give helpful feedback with respect, and the relationship skills to navigate within a collaborative working group are all important life skills that many professionals use in their jobs every day! Peer reviews are a phenomenal way to add useful skills to your students’ social and emotional toolbox.
Peer reviews can be a nice way to mix up social interactions in the classroom. See how this teacher encourages learners to work with others (besides their friends!)
60-Second Strategy: Peer Review
When students take charge of their own feedback, they learn to work with others in the room - and not just their friends.
Provides an opportunity for metacognition. Reflecting on your own writing, listening to feedback, and translating that feedback into active revision is a tall order for a writer of any age. Practicing metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking, pairs well with peer review writing activities. Metacognition is important throughout the writing process: research has found that asking metacognitive questions before, during, and after writing tasks can improve student progress (Colognesi et al., 2020). Research has also found that metacognitive tasks boost students’ engagement and collaboration during peer reviews (Bui & Kong, 2019).
For many educators, this connection is intuitive: Reflecting on our writing in response to a peer’s feedback and questions requires us to evaluate the decisions we made and ask ourselves questions about our thinking. For a quick review of metacognitive practices, watch:
How to Teach Writing Peer Reviews in Elementary Classrooms
There is no single “right” way to teach peer reviews in elementary classrooms, and every set of learners will have varying needs. However, research can help us understand some of the most fundamental practices that will set your class up for success.
We know that modeling is critical in writing instruction throughout the writing process. Writing is a personal, (sometimes very vulnerable) act and students benefit from watching their teacher model the creative, iterative, and occasionally frustrating work that goes into crafting a piece of writing. Modeling the review process is also important — it can help students construct a framework for how a review conversation should sound, what the objectives are, and what they can expect from their peers.
If modeling through action isn’t feasible or a good fit for your classroom, you might also consider providing your students with a completed, written sample review for discussion before beginning their reviews.
Explicit Instruction & Supports
Explicit instruction is also important throughout the writing process. For peer reviews, it’s important to provide explicit instruction in both the step-by-step process of conducting a review, as well as in communication and listening skills.
Teach learners how to complete a peer review. Be sure to give students plenty of support and instruction in the process of a peer review. Routines are critical for elementary classrooms. Our literacy program, Wonders, guides students through each step of a peer review with a simple routine, including listening as the writer reads their work, sharing what they liked about the writing, asking questions to help the writer think about their writing, and making suggestions to improve the writing. Wonders also provides students with sentence starters to help them articulate their feedback.
Checklist handouts are a great tool to help students focus their feedback on a set of important criteria and prevent them from getting overwhelmed or losing focus. To start, check out this free checklist:
Teach learners how to be good listeners and communicators. Explicit instruction in the social and emotional skills required to communicate, listen, and collaborate is critical. Spend time teaching and modeling what active listening looks like, what helpful feedback sounds like, and even what empathy feels like. Provide supports and reminders that reinforce these practices — even simple classroom posters are a great tool for revisiting listening and communicating principles! The free poster below is ready to print and display in your classroom today:
These skills will be transferable across all disciplines. We recently published an article on modeling productive discourse in science class that provides excellent tips, widely applicable to the ELA classroom. Be sure to check it out for some great ideas.
Guidance for Revision
Finally, don’t forget to model the revision process as well! Revising is one of the most vulnerable parts of the writing process, and it’s so important for students to see their teachers navigating that space. It will give them the confidence and freedom to incorporate their peers’ feedback into their writing.
For more on reading and writing, visit: https://medium.com/inspired-ideas-prek-12/sor/home
Bui, G., & Kong, A. (2019). Metacognitive instruction for peer review interaction in L2 writing. Journal of Writing Research, 11(vol. 11 issue 2), 357–392. https://doi.org/10.17239/jowr-2019.11.02.05
Colognesi, S., Piret, C., Demorsy, S., & Barbier, E. (2020). Teaching writing-with or without metacognition: An exploratory study of 11- to 12-year-old students writing a book review. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 12(5), 459–470. https://doi.org/10.26822/iejee.2020562136