As we plan for improvement, writing is at the forefront of everyone’s mind on my campus, in my district, and across our state. We have been brainstorming practical and meaningful ways to incorporate more writing across academic areas in order to bolster and strengthen students’ skills. As I began brainstorming today, I realized that just writing more won’t entirely solve the problem because students who are struggling with how to write a complete sentence, for example, aren’t going to get any better at this skill by just being required to write more. And we’ve already got quality first instruction in place as well as small group interventions.
Then it hit me – peer to peer tutoring is when I often see lightbulbs go off because students hear it in their peer’s language. Those peer to peer explanations can seem nonsensical, incomplete, and jumbled to us adults but bring such light and clarity to classmates.
So here’s what I came up with to facilitate students helping each other without really even knowing it – Collaborative Critical Writing – short prompts (my example requires at least 3 complete sentences per question) that can be used in any class, at any level, with any subject area – using a shared Google Doc. Here’s the process:
- Create a Google Doc and share it – giving all students editing rights
- Assign students into groups (in my example I have 6 groups)
- Give students one critical writing prompt. My example includes questions for students to:
- Predict – have students make a prediction about something you are about to study, read, work on
- Summarize – ask students to summarize what they read, learned about, or watched in short video clip
- Opinion – ask groups to state an opinion about what you’re learning and defend it
- Question – challenge groups to write down questions they have about the topic
- Answer – answer groups to answer questions posed by their classmates
- Apply – have students apply new learning to other subject areas or their lives outside of school
- Reflect – ask students to reflect on what they learned, read, or saw in a clip
- Instruct them NOT to type until you say “Go!”
- Give them time to discuss the answer to your prompt (this way groups have time to think of their answers and will be less likely to wait to see other groups answers before typing theirs in)
- Then, when you say go, a student is selected to type for the group
- In my example, I have students selected by length of hair, height, next birthday, etc. – but the prompt always says that it must be someone who has not yet typed – this way all students will type for one of the prompts.
Here’s where the peer tutoring comes into play without students even knowing it. Students will naturally correct each other and help each other as they type. They will say, “Go back and capitalize the first letter!” or “That doesn’t make sense, let’s add a word here.” A student who has been struggling gets peer support as he types for the group! The more he or she is coached as they type, the more fluent those rules will become!
Students love this assignment because they get to work together – and they especially love seeing when every group is typing at the same time! Repeat the process for different questions embedded throughout your lesson or use one a day over a week. Be sure to take time following questions to project and discuss the varying groups’ answers.
I hope you’ll try Cooperative Critical Writing assignments in your classroom and share your questions, procedures, and results!