Slice of Life: Virtual and Collaborative Peer Review

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are invited to notice the small moments. You write, too.)

Peer editing

There’s always an edge of chaos when I introduce something new and technology-related to our writing process. We’ve been working for about two weeks on a small research/writing project in which my sixth graders are composing Letters to the Next President based on a topic of choice. I wrote about it yesterday.

Last Friday, I put students across my four classes into Virtual Writing Groups. They “invited” other students from their groups into their documents in comment mode. Then yesterday, after a mini-lesson on Warm and Cool Feedback and how to comment in Google Docs, they spent about 30 minutes reading other students’ letters, using the comment tool to offer support and suggestions for improvements.

Letter to Prez Collab Peer Editing

For most, this is the first time they have used the commenting feature as collaboration and the first time they found themselves in a single document with other students, sometimes in the same document at the same time (since all groups had at least one or two other students from the same class as well as students from others).


If you’ve ever been with young writers then they suddenly discover the power and potential of commenting into Google Docs, as well as its potential collaborative features, you know what the room suddenly becomes. A scream out loud, a laugh across the room, a shout to someone else, a burst of confusion. We had it all, in each of the sixth grade classes yesterday.

Peer editing

My role, as teacher, was to allow those moments to happen, put what they were finding out into context (“Now, imagine if we extended your Writing Group to students beyond our own sixth grade in our own school ….”) and then guide them forward to keep actively reading and offering suggestions for improvement.

I asked that they NOT yet read the comments on their own letters, as we will be doing that today in a lesson around accepting/rejecting feedback from others while acknowledging the authority of the “outside reader.” I wasn’t strict on that point, but most were fully engaged in reading what others had written and offering comments.

Next up? Final editing/revision of the Letters in today’s classes, printing them off and mailing them to the White House in the coming weeks. It’s a nice bit of symmetry that our letter project comes to an end on the day of the election.

Peace (it’s collaborative),


  1. This is one of the reasons I ike using Google docs in my classroom. I love that your students are writing for many authentic audiences — their peers and the president. They will remember this activity for a long, long time.

  2. I loved this Slice, sharing what is happening in your classroom around exciting student centered writing together. We have moved so far from the elementary check list!!!
    Bravo, friend.

  3. I love this. I teach students who are distance learners, so Google docs are such a wonderful tool for collaboration. I like how you described the excitement. It is so real.

  4. I love this work! We have done collaboration over Google docs with reading groups… commenting on books. But for some reason, I have hesitated opening up comments on their writing. Perhaps it’s my own fear of commentary that has stopped me. Ha! See a reason for me to be in a critique group!

  5. I just found out today that we will finally be getting Google classroom in our district. Can’t wait to hear this buzz in my classroom.

  6. What I appreciate in this play-by-play is the mindful, measured approach to teaching how to give & receive feedback. Prepping students & practicing for each phase in the process smoothes a sometimes bumpy road.

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