Incorporate Peer Review Exercises

Peer review exercises — in other words, when students read and respond to each other’s writing either in class or outside it — can be a valuable teaching and learning tool at any point in the writing process. Peer review is a concrete way to impress upon students that they need to write with an audience in mind. 

In order for peer review to be successful, the tasks required for both the reviewer and the reviewee must be clearly defined for students. The more structure you can provide as to what reviewers should comment on when reading a reviewee’s paper and as to how the reviewee should respond to feedback, the more useful this technique can be for your students. The structure and goals of peer review exercises will look different depending on where students are in the writing process.


Peer review can benefit instructors: Incorporating peer review in your course can save you time and reinforce your own comments on student writing. Peer review 

    • provides additional rounds of feedback to students without appreciably adding to the instructor’s workload.


    • helps instructors teach students how to be their own best critics by giving students opportunities to practice the skill of incisively reading someone else’s writing with an eye to critiquing their own.


    • corroborates the instructor’s feedback by showing students who are unconvinced of the validity of the instructor’s feedback that their peers had similar reactions as the instructor.


Peer review can benefit students (both reviewers and reviewees): Working with peers is a common part of the undergraduate academic experience. By learning early and often in the semester how to provide thoughtful feedback on a peer’s piece of writing, students will develop a strength that they can tap in their future work. Peer review

    • helps reviewers and reviewees develop a critical and objective stance toward their own writing.


    • demonstrates alternative ways of approaching a topic or alternative views that reviewees and reviewers may not have previously considered, and provides both reviewees and reviewers the experience of responding to counterarguments.


    • provides reviewees additional rounds of practice formulating and articulating an argument.


  • allows reviewees to hear directly from their audience.





Techniques for Peer Review

Use Peer Review to Develop Theses

Critical-thinking exercises occurring early in the writing process can help students understand the assignment, select source materials, formulate focus questions, and determine a thesis/position.

Download an exercise on using peer review to develop theses as a Microsoft Word document.

Use Peer Review to Practice Articulating an Argument for a Real Audience

By explaining their plans for a paper to their peers before they begin writing, students give themselves a real audience for their ideas. The process helps them clarify their positions, decide which evidence to include or exclude, and anticipate and respond to counterarguments.

Download an exercise on using peer review to practice articulating an argument for a real audience as a Microsoft Word document. 

Use Peer Review to Comment on Drafts

By asking students to develop a written response to their peer’s draft, you can help your students recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their writing and understand what they need to revise in their own work.

Download an exercise on using peer review to comment on drafts as a Microsoft Word document.

Avoid Potential Pitfalls

    • Make roles and responsibilities explicit: Clearly articulate expectations for peer review exercises, including both the reviewer and reviewee roles. Be clear about what students can and can’t offer each other. Peer review exercises don’t go well when students are trying to offer something that they’re really not prepared to do.


  • Establish accountability for reviewers: Make sure students understand this accountability before beginning the peer review exercise. Some possibilities include the following:


    • Walk around the classroom, visiting the pairs (or larger student groupings), and comment on your students’ work as you move from group to group.


    • Devote some small portion of class time after peer work exercise where reviewees say aloud to the class what the most useful feedback from reviewer was.


    • Have reviewers submit written feedback directly to instructor/TF, who then gives the feedback to the reviewees.


  • Have reviewees submit the review along with their own final work.


  • Quality partnerships: If the goals of  peer review exercises are not framed clearly for students, students will often consider the activity to be pointless: “the pooling of common ignorance.”  To prevent this experience, make clear that a crucial reason for having students undertake peer review exercises is to help them see their own writing more clearly by practicing how to read someone else’s writing. You can provide these opportunities to practice and make them matter to students by assigning peer review groups of more than two people so each student has multiple rounds of reviewer/reviewee roles, by varying the partnerships/groups over time, and/or by including an accountability mechanism for reviewers (see above).

Want Help?

The Harvard Writing Project offers free workshops to all FAS faculty and teaching fellows, with proven strategies to help you work more efficiently and to help your students learn more effectively.  Contact us.