Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Trio of Success: writing, improving and commenting

This activity is designed to improve students’ extended writing, primarily at KS4/5. The key foci here are:

• The process of writing, linking and arguing
• The skill of using advice to improve the quality of work
• The application of a mark-scheme to a piece of written work to make a judgement

Though the outcome of the activity can be for students to receive a mark if you choose, they need to understand that what is more important in this case is the process through which they achieved that mark.
Ideally, the activity is hosted on a wiki – a multi-editable page – on a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). If you don’t have access to this technology, then Google Drive ( allows students to set up a multi-editable document and email the link to everyone they wish to access it. Alternatively a Word document emailed from student to student would work, and if none of this takes your fancy then good old fashioned pen and paper would also suffice.


1. Split the class into equally sized teams. In the event of having an odd number of students, you could always double up roles, or introduce an element of differentiation by giving more able students more than one role. In History we tend to write a six paragraph essay (introduction, four paragraphs and a conclusion) and so my class of 18 was rather neatly divided into 3 teams which is the model on which the table below is based. However it would easily work with a different number, you simply set up a cyclical pass-on system for each of the 3 stages s modelled below.
2. Assign each student a paragraph responsibility within their team, or even better, let them make the decision themselves. Ultimately each student needs to have overall responsibility for one paragraph of the final piece of work.
3. Then you can either assign each team the same essay question, or alternatively you set each team a different question.

The 3-stage model

Stage 1 – Writing

Each team researches and writes its answer. Generally speaking they will need to write it in order – introduction – paragraphs – conclusion – and so it is a useful exercise in collaborative working as well; there can be no ‘night before it’s due’ writing!

One of the best things I have found about this exercise is that students have to pay careful attention to how the paragraphs link together to further the argument; as the thoughts preceding their own are not actually their own, they have to adapt their argument and make use of language in order to create one cohesive argument.
If you are using a wiki on the VLE, then students can all access it in order to input their paragraph. If you are using Google Drive the same applies. A word document would need to be emailed around, and pens and paper would require a cutting, sticking and photocopying job.

Stage 1.5 – you mark the first attempts

It’s important that each team have a sense of the quality of their collective attempt; individual students can look at the comments on their particular paragraph, whilst also getting a sense of how successful their team effort was in creating an overall argument. Whilst some individuals may feel this mark is not representative of their particular contribution, it doesn’t really matter – this activity is about the process.

By marking the first set of essays (three, not 18!) you can also see what each individual has achieved as well as seeing how effectively they were able to work collaboratively.

I downloaded and printed each team’s attempt, marked them by hand, and then scanned in the documents and uploaded them to the wiki for students to access electronically. You could equally use a photocopier.

Stage 2 – students improve on the first round

Each team then moves on to the ‘improvement’ stage. Keeping the same paragraph responsibility (e.g. introduction writers become introduction improvers) students then access the next team’s script, marked by you, and act on the comments made and advice given. The aim is both to read another team’s argument, and to make changes that collectively improve the quality of the work. If the essay is hosted on a wiki, or Google Drive, improvements can be made directly to the document using a different coloured text.

Stage 3 – students mark the second round

The final stage is for each team to mark the improved collective work of the other two teams (refer to the model above). Depending on your students’ familiarity with the mark-scheme, you may wish to guide them through this stage. They can of course refer to the script with your original comments completed at stage 1.5, and they are looking to mark the work as it stands, having been improved by the second team.

In this final stage, students can abandon their paragraph responsibilities and instead mark the whole piece of work. The benefit here is that they can see two versions of the work, and using the mark-scheme they can see how successfully your initial comments have been improved upon.

Charlotte Grove

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