Self and peer correction help students to revise and check their own learning as they focus on writing as a process. Apart from creating confidence and dialogue among students, when we analyse another person’s writing to the best of our ability, we are often able to notice those types of formal or communicative gaps that allow us to confirm or reject any hypotheses we may have about the language at that point, and therefore improve our learning.
Simultaneous roundtable writing is an activity I like doing with my students. It does have self and peer correction as one of the main goals, but it integrates many other specific objectives and skills as well. At its very simplest, the procedure would be as follows:
1. Students sit in groups of 4 with a blank paper, they number themselves off, and write their numbers on their piece of paper.
2. Ask a few students for any word they can think of at that moment and write them down on the board (8 or 10 words.) Alternatively, you may prefer to provide the words (for instance, words from a unit you’re working on.)
3. Explain that the goal is to write a series of narrative stories collaboratively. Go over the main elements of a narrative text (setting, characters, plot, solution, most common tenses, typical connectors, and so on.) Also, state that they’ll be reading each other’s writing during the activity, so their handwriting, grammar and word choice should be as clear as possible to avoid communicative problems.
4. During the first 5 minutes, students work on the beginning of their own story independently, which typically consists of describing the setting and perhaps introducing one of the characters. I usually allow them to use 2 or 3 words from the list, which helps them with ideas and makes the whole process less intimidating for some students.
5. When the time is up, the students in each team rotate the papers: number 1s give out their papers to number 2s, number 2s to 3s, 3s to 4s, and 4s to 1s. During the next 5-6 minutes, students read the beginning of the story their classmate has just written and continue the story, describing a character that has been introduced or starting with the plot.
6. Students rotate the papers and repeat the same procedure. Brand new story to read and a new challenge to continue writing! Students should still focus on the main plot at this point, incorporating 2-3 words that haven’t been used yet in that particular story.
7. Rotate the papers once again. Explain that the student who started the story will be writing the ending, so this is their last chance to work on the plot (or even introduce a memorable plot twist!)
8. In this final rotation, the student who started each story reads what has become of it — very often to their amazement! Students ask any team members for clarification if needed.
9. Finally, students write an ending to the story they started at the beginning of the activity.
There are several good things about this task so far:
- In 25-30 minutes, students get to actively participate in reading and writing four different narrative stories at different stages.
- Although there is pressure to write, students can write at their own performance level and any length they can. In fact, I’ve always found the weaker or more reluctant students do write in this type of setting.
- Students also have an immediate audience who will read what they write in a few minutes. This demands that handwriting, grammar or word choice need to be as clear as possible so as not to cause confusion.
- Funnily enough, the activity generates a vast number of connectors — very often more than needed. I guess the type of thinking behind this is: “Fine. Now, what should I do with this?! Let’s see…”, and this sort of creates the need to start with a linking expression that helps to confirm there’s a new writer on board.
The students who started and finished the story are finally responsible for correcting (and sometimes rewriting) their papers. This depends on the level of the students and your specific objectives: you can simply have students correct the paper with a rubric or allow them to edit it and work on style as well. A basic checklist would include items related to organisation, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, spelling, cohesion and coherence. In both cases, students are required to hand in both the original and the revised papers at the end. Students can also point out the strengths and weaknesses of the final product and how they would improve that piece of writing — especially after all those crazy ideas and impossible plot twists!
Indeed, that’s what these written stories often end up being all about (especially if you work with teenagers!) And that’s what makes sharing them with the rest of the class, either before or after editing, the most meaningful and entertaining. After all, it’s no individual’s responsibility but the whole group’s, and the students enjoy sharing their unique ideas and listening to what others have come up with. After some whole-group discussion, can they now choose their favourite story and explain why?