Group Essay Instruction, Peer Editing, and Grading Criteria

A Guide to Helping Students Collaborate in Group Essay Writing

Group Essay writing requires the 21st Century skills of communication and collaboration skills. Joos Mind/GETTY Images

Preparing students to be college and career ready means preparing them to communicate and collaborate. The skill set of collaboration and communication is one of the 21st Century Skills embedded in academic content standards. One of the best ways to have students communicate and collaborate is through the group essay. A group essay is an authentic writing exercise in that it resembles the sort of group writing that happens in the real world—an undergraduate college group project, a report for a business, or a newsletter for a non-profit institution.

Collaborative writing can result in more ideas or solutions for completing a task.

Group Essay Instructions

Depending on the size of the class, teachers may want to organize the essay writing groups into different sized teams. Students can be organized into groups of 3-5 students (Note: six students becomes too complicated.)

Here are some ways to organize groups with suggested length of essay responses:

  • Student Groups of Five or Four: write five (5) paragraph essay (introduction with thesis-three (3) body paragraphs, conclusion)
  • Student Groups of Three: write four (4) paragraph essay (introduction with thesis-two (2) body paragraphs, conclusion)

The information below is meant to guide a teacher in the creation of a group essay (setting up the road map) in any subject content area.

  • Students review the topic and all the information (rubric, scoring guides, criteria)
  • Students develop a working thesis. This working thesis statement must clearly state the group's position on a topic.
  • .Students should brainstorm briefly and list the ways they plan on proving their collective position. 
  • Students should prepare to include a counterclaim that directly or indirectly opposes their collective position.
  • Student prepare evidence on graphic organizers.
  • Students should divide responsibilities of writing essay . It may be best to divide by components:
  • Students must be sure to include the context (Who? What? Where? When? Why?) for the evidence they will be using to prove their collective position.
  • Students should  make sure the evidence they include in their collective essay is accurate, complete, timelyverifiable, and available.
  •  Students should be prepared to use sentence stems  or sentence starters in order to cite evidence. These help students express ideas, or find words to show the relationship between ideas. Examples of sentence stems are:
    • One example from the text is_________
    • The author wrote__________
    • In the text it states__________
    • In paragraph _________,the narrator states________
    • Readers can tell that __________________________
    • This proves__________________
    • This demonstrates________________
    • According to the text___________
    • The picture shows__________
    • For instance__________
    • Based on the information_________
    • The graph indicates___________
    • According to page ______ of the text_______
    • On page_____ it states______________
    • The first thing that happened was ...
    • After that ________
    • The following important event was _____
    • Earlier in the story ______
  • Students should use a transition (see table below) at the beginning of each paragraph so there is a seamless flow of information in the longer paper.
  • Students should develop an analysis of evidence in each body paragraph, and explain how their evidence supports their answer or connects to another text.
  • Students should work together to modify and revise their working thesis to a thesis that is in the introductory paragraph.
  • Students should work together to develop an introduction.
  • Students should work together to develop a conclusion.

Coaching Tips for Peer to Peer Conferencing 

Students should provide peer-to-peer critical commentary as they write collaboratively.  As they write, students can use the comment feature (Google Docs) to leave or on hard copies, use “post-it” notes in order to make comments on the group paper.  

Students should prepare to first reward their peers for what they do well. They should start all collaborations with positive comments.

Students should also be specific in their feedback. They should note sentences with comments: “good details in” or “______ is the perfect verb.”

Students should read the essay aloud, and listen as a group to see if each section contributes effectively to the whole.

In providing where a reader may get lost, students should write, “Argument seems to go off track in these paragraphs.” Students should prepare to determine if a section of the essay is contextually different?

Students should consider the paper as a whole and look at the big picture. They should make sure that the paper remains focused during the collaboration. All contributors should keep to the thesis.  

Students should collaboratively decide if the opening is engaging and if the conclusion is successful.

At any given point, students should brainstorm solutions, and talk with several other readers about the essay and discover ideas which might provide a solution to a rough spot. Finally, students should understand that, although politeness and civility is an essential part of group work, overlooking errors in order to spare someone’s feelings will not help that person improve as a writer.

Formal Response Rubric Criteria and Descriptors

For four or five paragraph collaborative essays:

Formal introductory paragraph ending in a thesis statement:

  • Hook or engaging opening (EX: Quotation, Appeal to Authority, Fact or Statistic, Comparison, Brief Summary, Ask a question, Present a problem);
  • Background information;
  • Works from general information to a specific thesis.

Uses Paragraph structure

  • Transitions between paragraphs (see table below);
  • Uses topic sentences to identify the main idea and point of the paragraph;
  • Uses examples as evidence to support ideas and cites appropriately; 
  • Uses exact quotes as evidence to support ideas and cites appropriately; 
  • Uses details to support ideas and cites appropriately; 
  • Shows analysis and insight into topic and demonstrates understanding of work or topic;
  • Shows awareness of the author style.

A full paragraph conclusion:

  • Connects to back to thesis;
  • Summarizes evidence; 
  • Draws conclusion-from specific to general.

Follows rules of standard written English:

  • Carefully revised and proofread;
  • Careful citation of ALL evidence both in test and in all works cited;
  • Careful control of sentence structure (variety and complexity) and vocabulary appropriate to a formal writing style.

One of the best set of min-lessons that can come about through using group essays is the teacher's opportunity to review transitions. Here is a table of transitions that students should use in creating group responses.

Transition Words

There are words or phrases known as transitional devices that help carry a thought from one sentence to another, from one idea to another, or from one paragraph to another. Ultimately, transitional devices link sentences and paragraphs together smoothly so that there are no abrupt jumps or breaks between ideas.

To Add:

 

 and, again, and then, besides, equally important, finally, further, furthermore, nor, too, next, lastly, what's more, moreover, in addition, first (second, etc.)

To Prove: because, for, since, for the same reason, obviously, evidently, furthermore, moreover, besides, indeed, in fact, in addition, in any case, that is
To Repeat: in brief, as said, as  noted, as has been noted
To Emphasize: definitely, extremely, obviously, in fact, indeed, in any case, absolutely, positively, naturally, surprisingly, always, forever, perennially, eternally, never, emphatically, unquestionably, without a doubt, certainly, undeniably, without reservation
To Show Sequence: first, second, third, and so forth. next, then, following this, at this time, now, at this point, after, afterward, subsequently, finally, consequently, previously, before this, simultaneously, concurrently, thus, therefore, hence, next, and then, soon
To Give an Example: for example, for instance, in this case, in another case, on this occasion, in this situation, take the case of, to demonstrate, to illustrate, as an illustration, to illustrate
To Summarize or Conclude: in brief, on the whole, summing up, to conclude, in conclusion, as shown, as said, hence, therefore, accordingly, thus, as a result, consequently, on the whole

 

Conclusion

One of the best ways a teacher can have students communicate and collaborate in a specific subject area is through having students write a group essay. Even though this collaborative writing approach may require more time in the set-up and monitoring, the fewer number of papers for teachers to grade is a bonus.