Peer Response Protocols and Procedures

Giving students protocols to follow during peer response workshop sessions can keep pairs or groups focused and on task. For information about how and why to incorporate peer response activity, see the The Benefits of Peer Response. For workshop sessions that are intended to extend for more than a few minutes, consider providing guidelines (what to comment on) and procedures (how to do so). The following protocols can be used, adapted, and combined to fit most writing contexts, whether you’re teaching a large- or small-enrollment course, and working in an onsite, online, or hybrid environment. These protocols also work with hard copies of papers or Google Docs.

Protocol #1: Ask Questions

This approach can be used effectively when time is short and the instructor wants students to focus on just a few key, big-picture features in the writing and to resist making correction-oriented comments.

Sample: Either in the margins or end of the draft, ask three questions that would strengthen the paper if answered. You might, for example, ask for more clarity on a specific point, request additional evidence that may strengthen an argument or point, or question choices made about organization or formatting, etc.

Protocol #2: Guided Response

This approach asks students to read each other’s papers, lab reports, technical memos, etc. with specific criteria in mind. Often these criteria will be articulated in rubrics and/or communicated on the assignment sheet.

Sample: Use the following questions to guide your feedback.

Consider the thesis:

  • What do you think the thesis of the paper is? In your own words, write out what you think the writer is trying to assert and prove.
  • Does the thesis statement meet our criteria: debatable and of aligned scope for a 4-to-6-page paper?  

Consider the reasoning:

  • Are there any arguments that you feel are brushed aside too quickly? If so, which ones and why?
  • Can you think of any arguments or counter-arguments the paper should consider, but hasn’t? Try to think of a couple and write them down or insert a comment in the margins of the document.

Consider the style:

  • Which words did you as a reader find yourself wondering about? Which sentences or phrases were a little tricky for you to understand, or caused you to pause?" 

Protocol #3: Descriptive Response

This approach encourages students to focus on their experience as readers. Because it avoids closed-ended questions and judgmental prompts, descriptive response often elicits more time on task and yields more feedback.

Sample (from Peter Elbow’s “Questions for Non Evaluative or Non Critical Responding”):

  • Which words or sections do you like or remember?
  • What do you want to hear more about?
  • As a reader, what are your thoughts on the topic? Where do you agree or disagree? 
  • Give “movies of your mind” as you are reading: if you are reading alongside the writer, tell the story of the actual thoughts, feelings, and reactions that go through your mind as you are reading. If you are reading the paper by yourself, then periodically interrupt your reading and write down on paper or insert a comment on a word document that reflects what has been going on in your mind as you read. 

Protocol #4: Group Response

When conducted in groups, peer response affords multiple perspectives for each writer, often demonstrating the need for writers to make informed and deliberative choices when revising. Because the process of exchange and circulation of drafts is more elaborate, group response benefits not just from protocols but also from clear procedural directions for giving and getting feedback and for the rotating roles of various members of the group. Also, because it can be difficult for peers to provide focused and constructive commentary on a draft minutes after they’ve read a draft or partial draft, initial commenting can take place before the class meets. Whatever procedure an instructor chooses for group response, it is important to indicate for students what they need to do in advance of a group meeting, whether it is held in class or synchronously online. Here are three examples for group-based response procedures for synchronous (onsite or online) meetings. These procedures can be adapted to fit class contexts and the time allotted for group response.

  1. Appoint a timekeeper who then divides time evenly among members.
  2. Writer talks: identify concerns, questions, revisions (no apologies).
  3. Group members discuss the work based on their pre-class reading, talking from drafts & guidelines. Stay focused on the big picture (this means not commenting on surface issues like typos or grammar).
  4. Writer remains silent and takes notes on the discussion, and refrains from answering or asking questions at this stage.
  5. Writer recaps/summarizes & asks questions
  6. If time remains, the writer talks through what they plan to prioritize as they continue revising 
  7. After all drafts have been discussed, members hand over marked drafts (make sure names of peer readers are noted).
  8. Each member of the peer group devises a revision action plan (to be turned in w/2nd draft).
  1. Appoint a timekeeper who then divides time evenly among members.
  2. Writer distributes draft and identifies concerns, questions, revisions (no apologies).
  3. Writer reads their own work aloud, or asks a peer group member to do so. Group members make notes on their drafts during the read-aloud.
  4. Group members discuss the work with the writer: talk from drafts & guidelines. Stay large-picture (that means no comments on surface issues like typos, grammar).
  5. Writer recaps.
  6. Next writer distributes drafts.
  1. In pairs or groups, writers rotate drafts.
  2. Peers read, making comments and handing the draft on.
  3. Once all drafts have been read, start peer workshop procedure #1 or #2.

Online Peer Response

Increasingly, peer response has moved from an in-class activity to a web-based one. With some adaptive planning, the protocols above can be applied to online spaces. Additionally, instructors may want to consider digital peer response tools. While we do not advocate for any one specific technology, the following tools have been adopted at many institutions.

Eli Review (Associated with Michigan State University)
A web-based tool that emphasizes sequenced peer review stages and revision planning. Instructors can use data analytics to inform their teaching of writing.

Peerceptiv (Associated with the University of Pittsburgh)
A cloud-based writing and peer review tool, using double-blind and multiple (3–6) reviewers. Peerceptiv generates data to confirm if learning objectives are being met and provides guidance on rubric improvement.

Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) (Associated with the University of California at Los Angeles)
CPR has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate institutions, in professional medical and business schools, and even in secondary schools.