TeachWrite NOLA

July 25, 2008

Receiving the Piece: Peer Response in Writer’s Workshop

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Receiving the Piece: Peer Response in Writer’s Workshop

“Response to a first draft is the most important part of the writing process for young and developing writers.”
Marcia Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 65

“Collaborative writing experiences turn non-writers into writers – a significant redefinition of the self.”
Karen Spear, Peer Response Groups in Action: Writing Together in Secondary Schools, p. 14

We write to be heard. We write to express ourselves, and we write for an audience. For young writers, the “hearing” part is vital in building confidence, developing craft skills, and learning how to become part of a community of writers. Marcia Freeman describes peer response as “engendering revision and a sense of authorship” (p. 65). As students “become” authors and share their work, they gain intimacy with the relationship between writing and reading. Literacy instruction is based on this dialogue between readers and writers. All students – kindergarten through college – have a voice and can partake in this dialogue. It’s up to teachers to guide these voices and show students how we can listen, discuss, and instruct one another.

Lucy Calkins writes “teacher-student and peer conferences…are at the heart of teaching writing” (p. 223). Conferencing is not just about the piece – it’s about helping a writer develop his or her repertoire of skills which can be applied to any piece of writing. Analytical and evaluative skills also develop through conferring with a peer. Students carefully listen, absorb, think, and provide evaluative feedback to the writer. Critical thinking is inherent in effective peer conferences.

Stream of Curriculum
Peer response (or conferencing) is considered an integral part of the writing process approach. Conferences usually follow the initial drafting stage. Often, a peer conference is the first feedback a young writer receives about his/her piece. Don Graves, noted writing teacher and researcher, developed a peer response method known as “receiving the piece.” In this approach, two or more students confer. The writer reads his/her piece aloud as the second student carefully listens. The listener then retells the piece to the author. This gives the writer a chance to correct any misunderstandings, as well as ensuring that the piece has been heard and “received.” The listener next asks a question about the piece, to which the writer responds. Then the listener makes a suggestion to help improve the piece. This step is crucial in helping the writer view his/her piece from the perspective of a reader, which can then lead to important evaluation and revision. The final step of the conference consists of the listener telling the writer what he/she liked about the piece. The students then switch roles.

The method of “receiving the piece” allows students to be heard. Students know they’ve been heard when their partner summarizes the writer’s piece. This simple act of retelling instantly boosts a student’s confidence and security level, which helps ensure that the writer will take the listener’s suggestions seriously. Asking questions is an effective strategy readers use to comprehend a text. Asking the writer a question about his/her piece automatically makes that text meaningful to the reader. This again bolsters the writer’s ownership and authority over the piece. The final component of receiving the piece – complimenting the writer and making a personal connection – teaches our students empathy and goodwill. Writers understand that a part of our inner selves are displayed through each word on the page, and to do so is a courageous act.

Reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills are all targeted during peer response. These important social skills transfer to other areas of the curriculum, as students collaborate on group science experiments or present an oral research project to their peers. Listening and responding skills will be used in every aspect of students’ lives – in and out of school and the writing world.

Theoretical Foundations
Writing research studies have shown that “it is at the point of response that young writers learn the most about how to write and how to effectively translate their ideas and information for the audience” (Spears, p. 135). Peer response is considered a standard part of any writing process classroom. As students become more adept at peer conferences, they will soon be able to conduct conferences with themselves, which “marks important growth in a child’s abilities as a writer” (Calkins, p. 237). Peer conferences help writers build craft skills, and more importantly, build awareness about their own writing abilities. Jack Wilde writes, “For many of us, it’s easier to recognize what works in the writing of others, since there is less ego involved. What this means is that students can learn more about parts of the craft of writing by responding to the writing of others than by handling response to their own writing” (2007). Evaluation – a higher order thinking skill – is developed and refined through this reflective experience.

Research also indicates that writers writing without reaction from others may forget to anticipate an audience for their piece (Hermann, 1989). Receiving response helps writers visualize and interact with an authentic reader, and thus makes the writer aware of who he/she is writing for. Peer conferences allow writers to experience an authentic reader other than a teacher. (Annenberg Media Learner).

Lesson Directions
Students will listen and summarize a classmate’s writing piece.
Students will ask a question about the piece and suggest revisions.
Students will apply suggested revisions in their writing.

1. Teacher reads Pink and Say by Patrica Polacco aloud to group and asks participants to think about the process of telling a story and listening to one another.
2. Participants fill out peer response survey. As a group, create a criteria list for characteristics of an effective peer conference.

Guided/Independent Practice
1. Teacher explains how to “receive the piece,” using a visual explaining each step of the process.
2. Teacher and student model receiving the piece.
3. Participants meet in pairs and respond to each other’s piece using the model as a guide.
4. Participants revise their piece independently.
5. Participants confer a second time, sharing revision changes and debriefing the process.

1. Author’s Chair/Read around
2. Questions, discussions, extensions.

Literature based on telling/listening to a story
Peer response survey
Receiving the Piece instructions (chart, PowerPoint, etc.)


1. Students take a rough draft home and conduct a homework response with a parent or adult. Conduct in a similar manner as classroom response conferences, but provide parents with a set of guidelines. Students and adult responder should also fill out a Homework Response form outlining compliments, suggestions, and other thoughts about the piece.
(Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 72)

2. Provide students with a blank tape and a tape recorder. Show students how to use the tape recorder and have them record their piece on the tape. Students can reflect on their own piece, similar to receiving the piece, or exchange tapes with a classmate to receive input.
(Freeman, Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide, p. 73)

3. Group responses can also be helpful for students. Establish a reading and response group of three or four students and set up a weekly schedule. Students read each other’s pieces, make written or oral comments, and bring the revised piece back at the next scheduled meeting time. Keep these groups flexible. Sit in occasionally to check on student progress and evaluate comments.

4. Create a form for your students to use for each conference they have. The form could be organized into headings: “I like,” “I wonder,” “Questions,” and “Plan for Action.” The writer fills out the last heading at the end of the peer conference while ideas are still fresh.
(Lane, After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision, p. 109)


Annenberg Media Learner (online). “Conversations Among Writing Peers.” Accessed at http://www.learner.org/channel/workshops/writing35/session6/sec2p2.html?pop=yes&pid=2214#.

Calkins, L. (1994). The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Freeman, M. (2003). Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide. Gainesville, FL:
Maupin House Publishing.

Graves, D.H. (2003). Writing: Teachers & Children at Work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graves, H.H. (1985). “All Children Can Write.” Accessed at http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204.

Hermann, A. (1989). “Teaching Writing with Peer Response Groups.” ERIC ED307616. Accessed at http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9211/peer.htm.

Spear, K. (1993). Peer Response Groups in Action: Writing Together in Secondary Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wilde, J. (2007). “Peer Conferences: Strategies and Consequences.” Inside Writing Communities. Annenberg Media.


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