Using cooperative peer editing to improve writing assignments in economics

Julie Smith, Lafayette College
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this cooperative learning activity, students receive feedback from their peers about the quality and clarity of writing assignments. This assignment has three parts: 1)critically reading a peers writing before and methodically generating comments to be shared, 2) during class, reviewing comments provided by their peers and having the opportunity for clarification and 3) participating in a broader class discussion regarding unresolved questions and issues.

  • This exercise is designed for intermediate macroeconomics; however, instructors may adapt the process and supporting handouts for other courses.

Learning Goals

Students often think that writing is something that is done the night before the paper is due. This peer assessment helps students improve their writing by having a peer evaluate their paper for clarity, logic, efficiency, and adherence to the assignment. The student gains from having her paper edited but by also editing one of her classmate's papers.

Content goals:
Learning goals:
  • The student enhances their written communication skills directly as a result of comments provided by their classmate, but they also gain insight into the writing process indirectly as they edit one of their classmate's papers.

Context for Use

Knowledge required: This exercise is administered after the students have completed a first draft of their paper.

Class size: This exercise was originally designed for a class of 25-30 students, but can be easily adapted for smaller or larger classes.

Time required: This exercise takes place over two class periods. During the first period, the exercise is designed to take 10 minutes, which includes pairing up the students and going over the peer evaluation handout. During the second period, the exercise is designed to take 20 minutes.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Assignment for Intermediate Macro (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB May14 12) is included as an informational piece so instructors understand the type of assignment that is being evaluated.

The Peer assessment form (Microsoft Word 35kB May14 12) guides students through effectively assessing another student's paper.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Class size poses no constraint on using this exercise as it only requires that instructors facilitate the random pairing of students. The pairing of students takes place by pulling matching numbers out of a hat on the day that the first draft is due. The peer evaluation handout is also reviewed with the students at this time and the instructor asks the students if they need any clarification about their assignment as a peer editor.

The 20-minute exercise is comprised of the following: 5 minutes for the first student to discuss his comments about his classmate's paper, 5 minutes for the second student to discuss her comments on her classmate's paper and 10 minutes for general discussion where the instructor calls on a few students at random and asks the student to discuss some aspect of his paper that his pair discussed. The instructor may ask broad questions such as "tell me some aspect about your paper that your partner commented on" or specific questions such as "how well did your partner think you used transitions" and do you agree or disagree. The instructor then opens the floor to general discussion.

The students are responsible for completing the first draft by the due date and exchanging papers once their peer editor is chosen. In addition, the students are expected to arrive at the second class having completed the peer evaluation form and ready to discuss their feedback. Failure to complete a draft or peer evaluation results in a lower paper grade. Students are required to turn in the draft, peer evaluation completed about their paper and final paper on the due date.

When reviewing the instructions of the writing assignment, instructors with weaker writers may want to point the students to the peer assessment as a guide for the qualities the instructor will be looking for in their papers.

During the discussion of the drafts on the second day instructors need to monitor progress and intervene when necessary by moving throughout the classroom. Although instructors may be tempted to directly answer student questions during this period, student learning is enhanced to a greater degree if the instructor guides struggling students by posing reflective questions.
Further considerations:
When setting up this activity the instructor should reinforce for the students that their job as readers is to provide constructive feedback to improve their peer's paper. Ask them to set aside the goal of being "nice" and focus on ways to improve the paper. At the start of the class when the students are meeting to discuss, ask students to really focus on what the writer has done well and what the writer needs to improve. It is often difficult for students to do this so reinforcement is needed.

In a variation, instructors could ask students to give the feedback they would hope to get such as providing feedback to get an A on the paper.

This assignment could be generalized for a larger class and the questions can be modified for different types of writing assignments (literature review, policy paper, etc.) Also, depending on the length of the paper, instructors may need to provide a longer time between the discussion of the peer assessment in class and the due date of the final paper.


The students turn in the peer assessment form, which can be read by the instructor to see if the author has followed the advice of her peer. Instructors may also examine how detailed the evaluator was in her comments. The final version of the paper is graded.

The peer assessment is not graded since it is formative assessment.

References and Resources