Field Note Friday: Response Groups for Student Writing

After students have finished a share-able draft of any writing for our class, we meet in response groups. Unlike peer editing, which focuses on mechanics, response groups focus on idea development in writing.

When students meet in response groups, the groups are small, usually no larger than 4 or 5 students.  If a group is too large, the students usually can’t finish within one class period. If the group is too small, students end up sitting around with nothing to do. (Wasted time is one of my enemies.) For a 48 minute class period, I have found that groups of four students are just about perfect.

I give each of the students a copy of step-by-step instructions that explain how to run the response group. This particular response group protocol that I use was written by Audrey at Reinventing the Librarian for our North Star of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute.

Here is a picture of the protocol sitting on a student desk:

Protocol on Desk

The Process

1.  The first student (usually decided by a rousing game of rock-paper-scissors or nose-goes) reads her paper aloud. The group members listen.

2.  As they are listening, the group members each have two sticky-notes in front of them.  They take notes about what they like on one note, and they write what confuses or bothers them on the other note.

Group Writing Sticky Notes

3.  After she finishes reading, the group members read and discuss their positive notes–everything that they liked about the piece.

Student Reading his sticky notes

4.  Then the writer asks the group specific questions about the struggles or weaknesses she perceives in her own writing.

Group Listening 2

5. The group members offer suggestions or perspectives in response to the writer’s questions. They also discuss any lingering suggestions or sticking points from their constructive criticism sticky note.

Group with copy of protocol

6.  The next writer reads his paper, and the process continues.

Does anyone else use response groups for student writing? What are your best strategies for having students help each other work on their idea development?

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