Peer Editing Stations

During the first semester of this school year, I helped Lauren Gourley with a lesson where she asked students to visit peer editing stations during the writing process. I loved this activity as it helped students isolate skills and allow for better focus. I also loved the fact that motion was incorporated to help get their brains more active during the process. Below are Lauren’s responses to my Q&A following the event.

You recently implemented peer editing stations for your students during a lesson. Can you please explain your philosophy behind the stations?

I decided to choose to do the peer editing stations after much reflection about Peer Editing. Prior to stations, I had students fill out a checklist of items to look for in their peer’s paper while making comments on the paper as a whole. There were several components that students needed to examine in one sitting (Grammar, Formatting, Cohesion, Citations, etc.), so I started to think about ways that elements of editing could be “chunked” into segments. By implementing stations, I was able to have students focus on a particular criterion while giving them movement around the room between focus areas.

Can you please describe how you set up each station?

I set up the stations by considering the focus areas in which I wanted my students to grow. These stations were Content & Analysis, Command of Evidence, Organization & Style, Control of Conventions, and Citations. I labeled baskets with all necessary materials for students to engage with the essay that they were editing (colored pencils, dictionary, thesaurus, grammar book, highlighters, etc.). I wanted students to actively read their peer’s essay by writing on it, color coding and providing symbols as directed at each station. At the Citations Station, Mrs. Hornberger (our librarian) helped students to make sure that their parenthetical citations and Work Cited were correct. Students had a small group environment to asses their use of citations with Mrs. Hornberger. After students finished at each station, they were given a rubric to grade their peer’s paper to evaluate how the student would do if they turned the essay in at that point.

What did students most enjoy or find helpful regarding the stations?

Students found that having a peer mark their paper using color coding, writing, or symbols helped them to better understand what components were missing and/or what areas could be expanded. They also found it helpful to have a small group meeting with Mrs. Hornberger. Students felt that in the smaller atmosphere, they were able to have more attention on their individual paper. Moreover, students found that in all stations, they were able to have more attention placed on a single element rather than the document as a whole.

What are you most likely to modify for a future activity like this?

In planning the stations, I had asked students to print their essay, so their peer could write on it. However, in doing this, I noticed that a few students did not make any of the changes when they turned in their electronic final draft. In reflection, if the student’s essay was shared through Google Docs to make comments and color code, the student would need to acknowledge those marks before submitting through Canvas, our Learning Management System.

Lauren Gourley teaches 9th and 10th grade English. These courses contain a strong concentration in the writing process, as she is aware of the importance of writing in every career. She encourages students to consider every element of their own writing throughout the writing process to take ownership and assess their strengths and weaknesses.


We’re Doing it All Backwards! Reverse Research Process

Have you ever read a student paper and noticed that the thesis statement does not fully match the content of their paper? Or have you looked further and noted that the order promised within the outline or thesis statement was rearranged?

It is so easy for students to create an initial plan for their paper and to, later, veer from that plan. As teachers, we are responsible for setting that plan for students.

Typically, we ask students to:

(a) create a thesis statement

(b) develop an outline

(c) take notes from their resources

(d) draft their paper

As recently explored in guest posts by my colleague, Morgan Flagg-Detwiler, reversing the order of the process can help both struggling and advanced writers (and all those in between!). She had students take research notes prior to drafting a thesis statement or creating their outlines. We’ve, since, been implementing this concept in other classes and have been seeing a similar benefit. For example, we have a class that, while reading The Crucible, must compare the events to a “modern day witch hunt”. Students pick topics such as racism in the United States or pregnancy and motherhood in the workplace, etc. The students seek parallels in terms of fear, profile, and persecution. They, too, have located resources and taken notes, turned their notes into an outline form, and will take that outline to develop a thesis statement. …but, what if they went even further and drafted a real loose rough draft of their paper prior to the development of the outline and thesis statement? The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests something quite similar!

In an article entitled, “Reverse Outlines: A Writer’s Technique for Examining Organization”, the author suggests that students create an outline after writing their paper to ensure that every paragraph relates back to the main idea, a reader can easily follow the path of thinking, there are no repeated ideas within paragraphs, only one topic is explored per paragraph, and that the paragraphs are neither too long or short. The author of the article suggests this as a “self-check” method after they have completed the research process. However, what if students were to incorporate this technique into the initial process of writing?

It could look like this:

  1. Students locate resources and take notes on interesting and useful content
  2. Students follow up by writing paragraphs of text, based solely upon the content from their notes
  3. Students explore the paragraphs to search for any topic sentences that they may have written
    1. If the student finds the topic sentence, they color-code it
    2. If the student does not find the topic sentence, they draft one and color-code it
  4. Students use the topic sentences to construct their outline. As they construct the outline, they consider:
    1. Does the information in this paragraph relate to my main idea?
    2. Does the information in this paragraph make sense in this place/location?
    3. Does the information in this paragraph include only one idea?
    4. Is this information new or has it been mentioned before?
  5. After setting up the main and subpoints within their outline, the students focus on the main points to create a few drafts of a thesis statement to match their outline
  6. Once students have a working thesis and outline, they can then further develop their writing by moving beyond the information drafted from the outside sources and add their own ideas and thoughts along with transition sentences, etc. (if they want, they can continue to follow the color-coding method to help in the organization of their writing). As they develop their writing, they should consider:
    1. Have I provided examples?
    2. Have I explored meaningful implications (have I explained how the written information supports and is connected to my overall topic)?
    3. Have I guided my reader to think in the path I’d like them to think?
    4. Have I done so concisely (are my paragraphs developed but not way too long suddenly)?
  7. The students should go back and forth editing and reworking their writing until they have a final product

Since this is likely a different method that students traditionally have experienced, the teacher would need to provide guidance, throughout. Yet, it may be life-changing for some students to be presented with a different method of approaching the research process and may be a method that they prefer to continue to use through their academic careers.

Thesis Statements – An Update

This guest post is authored by Morgan Flagg-Detwiler and is a follow-up to a post that she had contributed in November of 2018.

All of my freshman papers are graded, and this semester, I had some of the most dynamic, well-written papers I have seen to date!  I was impressed even by some of my lower level writers, who put forth a prodigious effort and followed directions to a T. If you do not remember, I added an assignment to my project which required students to fill out three note sheets BEFORE they wrote their thesis statements.  Prior to this, I had expected students to conduct research on their own and was finding that when it came time to write thesis statements, students were not able to connect their ideas, create categories, or formulate any type of opinion. I tried to troubleshoot and decided that it must be because, at that point in the process, they simply did not know enough about their research topic.

Now, full disclosure, I do not think the success of my students on their projects this semester is necessarily all due to the note sheets and change in process on my end, but for some of the students who are struggling writers, I believe this slight addition helped in tremendous ways!

At the conclusion of the project, I had students fill out a self-reflection sheet.  The two most common responses to the question “what do you think you did well on in this project?” were, “research notes” and “thesis statement” – which gives me some solid evidence that the connection between research notes and thesis statements is real!

Here is an example of a thesis statement from one of my admitted struggling writers:

“During the Civil War, the average southerner had many challenges in their everyday lives, poor men went to war, women had to work extra hard to provide for their family, and young children were forced to go into the army.”

The topic is clear: challenges of average Southerners during the Civil War

Subtopics are identifiable and researchable:

  1.  Poor men went to war
  2.  Women worked hard to provide for the family
  3.  Children were forced into the army

Had this student NOT filled out the required research notes prior to writing the thesis statement, I do not think they would have been able to categorize the troubles of Southern citizens nearly as well.  It is very clear they read their research articles and had an understanding of their topic enough to categorize in such a way.

I do not think this just benefited my struggling writers.  I had several students who are more advanced writers and felt comfortable tackling difficult topic choices.  Some students chose abstract topics, while others researched content rich and specific topics.

Here is an example of a thesis statement from one of my more advanced writers who tackled a very social studies content rich topic: “Because of the possibility to earn high profits, war profiteering attracted people with many backgrounds and resources, and due to the commonality of war profiteering, the government had difficulty putting it to a stop.”

This is a more sophisticated thesis with better vocabulary and clear subtopics.  Not only that, but this student is taking a position! I think the student’s grasp of the rich content is due in part, to the required note sheets. I cannot take credit for their utilization of concise vocabulary, but the fact they were able to bring the historical content into a digestible yet more sophisticated context as a freshman, I believe is partly because they did more research on the front-end of their project.

Morgan Flagg-Detwiler teaches 9th grade U.S. history and 12th grade Cultural Diversity.  Both of these classes house important pieces of the school’s research writing curriculum, and she works on making the process of research and writing just as important as the writing itself.  Understanding the importance of the “process” in any situation is also incorporated into her work with the Student Government kids as she is the adviser.

Color-Coding during the Writing Process

Increasingly, during instruction, we are using color-coding strategies to teach writing skills.

For example, in a three-point thesis statement, we direct students to highlight each point in a unique color and follow suit within their outline to show the connection of each point to its placement within the main body of the outline. This helps our students with organization and understand the connected elements.

Another example is our annotated bibliography instruction. Our students are ultimately assessed in five categories for each of their annotations (formatting, writing, summary, connections, and source quality/authority). While format and writing are not represented as isolated sentences within the annotation, summary, connections, and source quality/authority are indeed, found as unique sentences within. Color-coding assists students to isolate. We instruct our students to color-code each sentence type (summary, connections, source) to ensure that they have remembered to include each and to assess each against the rubric that they will be graded upon, and finally to assess against the model examples that they were provided (that are, likewise, color-coded). 

The final example where we use color-coding is while drafting a research paper and/or while they note-take in a detailed outline. The colors we choose: a light red for information from an outside source (whether a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary), a light blue for the associated citation, a light green for their written analysis that follows, a light orange for any transition sentence or topic sentence. This color-coding serves as patterning within the rough draft. Students are instructed that red must always be accompanied by blue (showing that information from their outside source must always be cited). They also know that each body paragraph within the main body of the paper must have red/blue (showing that they have consulted expert sources and used the information within their writing). They are instructed that about 90 percent of the red and blue bits of information should be followed with green (showing that they must not avoid providing their own analysis; they should be using their opportunity as writers to lead the reader along their desired thought process) They are instructed that each paragraph within the body of the paper must end with an orange sentence and begin with an orange sentence (showing that they have created a smooth path for their reader by identifying a very brief overview for each new concept).

We are very happy with the success of using color-coding strategies in writing. However, our building principal challenged us to expand our practice by looking to existing research to see what other professionals have found. My favorite article that I found was a research study conducted by Claudia Cecilia Otto who published her findings through Oklahoma State University. Her publication is entitled, “The Effects of a Color-Embedded Writing Strategy on the Written Expression Skills of Students with Mild-Moderate Disabilities.”

Quoted within, she verifies, “‘visual stimuli provide a concrete glimpse…’ for the formation of mental representations ‘… that a student can match’, eliciting the conceptualization of potential patterns”(qtd. in Otto 6). This quote helps to justify the fact that we have been using color coding with struggling students to elicit and check proper patterns in their writing.

Ms. Otto continues by stating, “using a color-coding approach in combination with research-based writing interventions to distinguish parts of speech and to guide sentence, paragraph, and essay writing can help students to more comprehensively understand the writing process and improve their overall writing skills” (Otto 8). This quote helps to justify the fact that we have been using color-coding within the paragraph to highlight sentences with isolated purposes within our annotated bibliographies.

Within her conclusion, she states, “information regarding the effectiveness of this strategy could benefit all students as well as those who struggle to learn in highly abstract learning environments” (Otto 188). We most certainly agree at Palisades High School that all students can benefit from writing strategies that utilize color-coding. We are really working hard on ensuring that all students in classes with struggling populations receive consistent guidance with color-coding. However, with our more advanced students, we do instruct them on how to color-code and advise they utilize the skills. As we hone our practice, we will likely find new ways to color-code! Some may be small and simple (such as our thesis statement example) while others are more involved. No matter what, each will be designed to help students.


Thesis statements; a simple concept, right?

This guest blog post, authored by Morgan Flagg-Detwiler discusses the first steps of the research process in her 9th grade classes specifically related to creating cohesive thesis statements.  Before delving into thesis statements, however, she has found that finding a way to check student research is imperative.

Thesis statements; a simple concept, right?

Unfortunately for many of my freshmen, writing a cohesive thesis statement for their research papers can prove to be cumbersome.  One of the biggest issues I have encountered is they try to formulate a thesis too early.

We spend a good amount of time going over which topics they want to delve into and what interests them about the time period.  I find that allowing them a bit of autonomy in their topic choices allows for better researchers- they become more curious about their chosen topics rather than me dictating to them what they must write about.  I only have two requirements: 1. It must be within the Civil War time period. 2. They must focus on how their topic impacted the Civil War (or vice versa). So the interest is there. We have everything from amputations to prison camps and animals in the war to weaponry.  A little something for everyone.

Once we have our topics we start to research.  The students are required a minimum of three sources, one of which must be a print source.  This is where the problem begins. The students are solely grabbing titles and scanning them over. THEY AREN’T READING THEM.  They feel as though once they have met the requirement, they are good for the next step. That next step is thesis writing.

I, along with our coveted librarian Mrs. Hornberger, go over a powerpoint catered to freshmen writers about thesis statements.  We focus on their purpose, do’s and don’ts, give several examples, discuss the difference between enumerative and umbrella thesis statements and much more.  Then, they take a stab at it. As Mrs. Hornberger and I walk around the room, it is then that I notice some students do not know what subtopics they want to employ in their thesis.  They are stuck and frustrated. This is because they do not know much at all about their topic, despite having met the minimum requirements for sources. So clearly the research aspect is falling short somewhere.  This is most likely because they are not reading their sources through, or getting the appropriate information out of them.

How do we alleviate this?  Well, I am going to try something new this year. Not only will they need to have a minimum of three sources when we begin researching, they are going to have to fill out a note sheet that corresponds with that source! This note sheet has been modified from the note sheet students use in their senior class for their graduation project.  Once we can ensure they are extrapolating the appropriate information from the sources, then we can move on to writing cohesive, thoughtful thesis statements.  Fingers crossed this will help!

Morgan Flagg-Detwiler teaches 9th grade U.S. history and 12th grade Cultural Diversity.  Both of these classes house important pieces of the school’s research writing curriculum, and she works on making the process of research and writing just as important as the writing itself.  Understanding the importance of the “process” in any situation is also incorporated into her work with the Student Government kids as she is the adviser.

Applied Digital Skills

This guest blog, authored by Aimee Trieu discusses Google’s Applied Digital Skills, which is a Google-powered online classroom. This Grow with Google program allows teachers to choose lessons to provide students an overview of a topic prior to application.

Aimee Trieu is an English teacher and technology leader at Palisades High School. Not only is technology evident in her classroom, the technological applications that her students utilize develop their analytical, creative, and communicative skills. In addition, Aimee also encourages her students to use these skills as a debate coach and as the high school’s newspaper advisor.


Editing Comment Bank

“If I share my paper with you, will you edit it?” …if I had the proverbial dollar for every time I heard that question… I do like to help students and they know and appreciate that. It has come with its challenges!

Questions in my head often arise, such as:

  • Am I doing too much for them through suggested edits and ultimately not teaching/helping them? If not, how can I balance that?
  • Have I only “cut their paper down” with suggestions and not given enough (or any) friendly feedback?
  • What if they receive a low grade (even after I edit) because they did not accept suggestions or they didn’t follow classroom expectations set by the teacher that I never knew existed?
  • Did I have enough time and energy and quiet and ability to focus to do a good enough job for this student? Did I get them my very best feedback?
  • Was I consistent with the effort I put in for this student in comparison to another?

The good news is that I have only experienced gracious students who have never been anything but kind. I did, however, want to “clean up my act”. I created an Editing Comment Bank to use that helps me to provide consistent guidance and direct me towards focal areas. It also reminds me to include positive statements. For some, I include outside resources. For instance, I have one section within the comment bank on introductions. It looks like this:

Introduction comments

    • Fantastic hook! It really gets me interested to continue reading!
    • You have laid impressive groundwork to introduce your content to your readers!
    • Nice thesis statement!
    • Very well crafted introduction, overall! Good job! It looks like you took the time and thought to prepare a quality piece of work!
    • A hook to get me more excited to keep reading may be something that you consider.  This video offers multiple ideas in writing a hook:
    • Your introduction could use a broad overview – something to “set the stage” for the overall topic.
    • THREE POINT THESIS: Your thesis statement should contain the three points that you want to prove in the order that they will appear in the paper.
    • Your thesis points are too similar to each other
    • Please use more vivid and expressive wording within your thesis statement
    • Your thesis statement has no apparent claim. You have three categories but there is never an apparent claim that these categories support.
    • Your thesis statement is too long. It should only be one sentence – you may utilize a semicolon to help that.
    • Your thesis statement belongs at the END of the introduction paragraph.

I have other sections within the comment bank that I can also use which direct me (and them) to look at other areas of their writing. Within a Google Doc, I can highlight an area of concern and just copy/paste the comment in where it applies. Our teachers us the QuickMark feature within, but I do not have access to that feature. For me, as a librarian, this has worked best. I follow up with a statement for the students. This is my little disclaimer:

Hi! I have tried my best to give you quality editing feedback.

  • I am not a trained English teacher and I may have not noticed every mistake, but have tried to take the time to help take your work to the “next level”.
  • I am unable to determine if your work was plagiarized. Please be sure that all work is yours and that any work from an outside source is properly cited.
  • I have intentionally provided a blend of responses. Some items you can hit accept to change (if you like the suggestions – it is your choice) and modify your work; in other situations, I have commented to direct you to make some necessary changes and help you learn to become a better writer.
  • I suggest that you ask others to also edit your work and also check it using spell check and grammar tools (I love Grammarly!). You may especially want to have someone in your class (who understands the full requirements for your project) check your work against any rubric or expectations to be certain that you have met anything specific that your teacher is looking for.

Good luck with your paper!

It has been a process to attempt to develop consistency and fairness and to teach versus doing it all for the students and enabling them to just be able to accept a group of suggested edits.