Utilizing Effective Peer Reviews & Crafting Intros and Conclusions

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SWBAT evaluate a partner's research paper draft for organization, effectiveness of argumentation, grammar, and mechanics and write effective introductions and conclusions.

Big Idea

Rejuvenate peer reviews, return relevance to conclusions, & banish the "I am going to tell you about…" introduction from your life FOREVER!


15 minutes

Today we will be embarking on a peer review activity for students' research papers.  While we have done several peer reviews already this year, I want to reiterate the importance of comprehensive, thoughtful peer reviews before we start this project.  With longer writing assignments especially, I notice that students can slack on the peer review process, so highlighting our goals and procedure at the start of the hour can help to motivate them to do their best.  We will begin by getting some feedback from students on how they typically feel about peer reviews.  I will ask students what is most and least helpful about this process, some things that they were different about the process, and what would help them to complete the process.  I anticipate a rather open discussion, since by this point in the school year students know that whatever they bring up in discussion tends to get address and changed in the coming class periods.  Some of the common gripes responses to these questions are listed below:

Benefits: catching things that you missed as the writer, getting feedback on whether or not something makes sense, noting areas that might not be cited properly, discussing arguments verbally which can translate to a better written argument

Drawbacks: differing writing styles make some changes unlikely to be put into practice, incorrect or incomplete grammatical changes, having to read boring papers (which I always tell them the peer reviewer is there to TELL THEM THAT!), uncertainty about what is plagiarized and what isn't, discomfort associated with listening to or giving criticism

Changes: teacher does all the feedback (HA), computer program to review

Things to Help: checklist, lots of time

After they have addressed their existing feelings about the review process, I will note the gripes I have not accounted for so that I can fix them next year and explain why the peer review process is helpful.  Many students think of it as an activity that solely benefits the paper, but I will also share how peer reviewing can make you a better writer as well based on my own experience.  I will also assure them that our peer review will use a checklist and that it's important for peer reviewers to be honest with their partners.  We've already talked about how using questions instead of statements can help students who fear giving criticism to do so in a more passive way (for example, "Is this sentence a run-on?" or "Could you be more specific about the results of this study?"), but I also want students to know that constructive criticism is critical for student growth and that their constructive criticism will help their grade, while my constructive criticism will hurt it.  Additionally, we will watch a wonderful demonstration video from the Texas A&M University Writing Center that will give students a better view on what this process should look like.

After the video, I will ask students what kind of behaviors and comments they saw and to suggest which reviewer they would rather have.  Obviously, it should be the thorough reviewer by the landslide, so the challenge for them will be to also BECOME that thorough reviewer!

Building Knowledge

15 minutes

Next, students will review the Argumentative Research Paper Rubric (which will be used again for their self-evaluations in a later class period and will be very similar to the rubric I will use to assess them) silently.  After they read each component, I will answer any questions and clarify any expectations they may be unsure of and demonstrate how they need to use the rubric.  One thing that will confuse students if you don't actually point it out is the minimum qualifications to "earn" each box.  For example, if students only have 5 pages of text, they cannot earn any points for the "Length" portion of the rubric.  Likewise, if ANY of the MLA conventions for formatting are missing, they cannot earn more than 1 point, and if even minor in-text citation formatting issues exist, they are capped at 3/5 points.  

Then, students will choose a partner and digitally share a copy of their paper for editing and reviewing.  Since I DON'T want to give partners access to the original document, I will distribute the directions below on my website for students to make a copy of their paper and share all of the associated documents.  

Steps to "Share" Peer Review Documents 

  1. Open your rough draft (which should be in your Shared Folder).
  2. Go to FILE--> Make a Copy--> Name it with your LAST NAME and "ROUGH DRAFT" (like MCCOY_ROUGH_DRAFT).
  3. Drag this copy from your Drive to your Shared Folder.
  4. Use the "Share" settings on this copy to "Share" it (with editing power) with your partner.
  5. When you receive your partner's shared document, move it to your Shared Folder.
  6. Download a copy of McCoy's Argumentative Research Paper Rubric.
  7. Move it to your Shared Folder and rename it with your LAST NAME and "PEER RUBRIC" (like MCCOY_PEER_RUBRIC).
  8. Where it says "Writer" in the rubric, WRITE YOUR NAME.  
  9. Using the "Share" settings on this rubric, "Share" it (with editing power) with your partner.
  10. When you receive your partner's shared document, move it to your Shared Folder.


40 minutes

Once all of their documents are shared, they can begin their peer review process.  To do this, they will have to read through their partner's essay a total of 3 times.  On the first read, they should solely read to get the main ideas of the paper and an overall structure of the argument.  Comment on anything that seems weird or out of place, and suggest if there is a better place to move sections on the text.  On the second read, they should highlight the thesis and specific arguments (claims) that they are using to support their thesis.  If reviewers notice that there is little evidence backing up their claims, counterclaims, or rebuttals, they should suggest other pieces of evidence that would help or clarify their points.  Finally, they should read the essay a third time to fix or suggest fixes for grammar, spelling, and mechanical errors.  Whenever they fix something in the document, they should highlight it.  If it's a more in-depth comment or suggestion, it should be documented through a Google comment to suggest what is wrong, what sounds odd, or how they might fix the issue you've identified.  Once they have completed these steps, they should fill out their partner's peer rubric.  Since most students do not have an introduction or conclusion, this will likely be an area which is docked in all papers.  The bottom section of the rubric with the tallies for misspelled words and grammar errors does not have to be completed, as the writer is still able to remedy these problems. 

During the peer review process, I will move throughout the room to answer questions and make sure that students are working on documents that have been placed in their shared folders.  While all students know that I cannot view work that is outside of this folder, it often slips their mind, so I want to be sure that I can see everyone's documents before they leave the room!

After each group finishes the written portion of their peer review, they should meet to discuss their reviews (like in the video) and answer any questions that they might have of one another.  If students finish with their peer review process early, they should begin revising their papers based on their peer suggestions.


20 minutes

In the remaining class period, we will have an introductions & conclusions workshop, focusing on creating college-level, focused, and interest-generating "bookends" to their essays.  Again, my students seem to be stuck in that pervasive "hamburger writing" approach to introductions and conclusions (which is so opposite to the Common Core and college readiness!), where you plop down your thesis statement, outline your "three arguments", then basically repeat the whole thing in the conclusion.  I have no idea why they are still approaching writing this way in high school, but it's my mission to never again read "I am going to tell you about..." at the high school level.  Ever.  

First, we'll take a look at a sample argumentative research paper from Hacker's guide at Bedford St. Martin's, noting the varied, interesting, and argument-specific introduction and conclusion.  Students will point out things that they particularly like about these features and compare it to what they have seen in their own essays.  Then, we will evaluate another resource from Arkansas State University that focuses on appropriate introduction construction and gives an annotated introduction sample that is very reminiscent of the PIE structure we've worked on in our course.  We will also review the University of Wisconsin-Madison's suggestions for interesting conclusions, contrasting them to the "hamburger approach" that students were urged to use in primary grades.  Finally, we will return to the Argumentative Writing Textbook selection that we used earlier to get a clearer understanding of what introductions and conclusions should and should not contain, specifically focusing on the complex syntax to show claims and counterclaims in the introduction (4), the relationship between fact and opinion in the thesis (4), the list of "always" and "never" includes (5 & 8), and the true purpose of the conclusion paragraph (8).  

After we have evaluated all of these sources, students will write introductory and conclusion paragraphs that they will share with their partner for immediate critique and revision.

Next Steps

For homework, students will need to complete a handful of research tasks.  Since we're on block scheduling and they have a long weekend, this list is longer than I would probably assign over a shorter period of time.

Before returning to class students need to:

  • Revise their drafts, incorporating their introductions & conclusions as well as their peer suggestions.
  • Go through their research paper after revision and double check that every piece of cited evidence has been appropriately paraphrased by comparing it to their notecards in Evernote.  After checking each fact, they need to "tag" their digital notecard with the word "USED."  This will allow me to easily find all of the material that has been cited in their papers.  All cited material must also be on a notecard in Evernote.
  • Transform their Annotated Working Bibliography into a Works Cited page by making a copy of it, deleting their annotations, and making sure that all of their sources are represented with citations in alphabetical order.

I will continue my quest to comment on all student drafts over the weekend, and I will again encourage students to make extra help appointments if they find themselves struggling with any of these last research tasks.  The final project will be due in the upcoming class periods, so it's extremely important all students are on task.