Implementing Critique Groups in your Writing Classroom

As promised, this month’s teaching tip is about implementing critique groups in your classroom.  WHY do it?  Because critique groups provide your students with valuable opportunities to talk the talk of writers, which will only help them walk the walk later.  If done right, critique groups will become something your students look forward to, thus motivating them to produce writing that they can share.  Lastly, the friendships, support, and encouragement that exists in a successful critique group is invaluable, and will promote and foster a positive classroom community.  So HOW do you make it happen?   

Tip # 9:  Implementing Critique Groups in your Writing Classroom 

First, let’s talk about what a critique group might look like.  Picture a small group of people sitting around a table.  There are snacks in the middle (candy, goldfish, etc.) along with small scraps of paper (¼ sheets or smaller, and maybe different colors).  The first author reads his piece to the group—without interruption—while everyone else listens and jots down notes on a scrap of paper. Once the reading is complete group members will take turns commenting, sharing things they liked, questions they had, etc.  The author only listens.  After everyone shares the author may ask the group one or two questions, if desired.  The author collects the notes and staples them to his piece so that he has them to refer back to when revising.

Questions:

1. How do you introduce this concept?

Consider modeling it during a whole class lesson.  Take a piece (one you’ve written or a student’s) and read it to the class.  After the reading have students share critiques.  During this time you can discuss what makes good feedback (I liked this . . . I was confused when . . . I want to know more . . .) and emphasize one important point, which is to always start with a positive comment.

2. How long is a piece and how many people are in a critique group?

The answer to this depends on how much time you have for writing.  Assuming you have an hour, you could have 5 students in a group.  Each person would get 10 minutes to read and collect feedback.  This would leave you with 10 minutes to use between the start of class and for closure.  How much can be read in that allotted amount of time determines the length of the piece to be read.

3. When do you fit it in?

This will be different for everyone.  Try doing it once per unit.  Have groups meet a week or two before final drafts are due, because the idea is for your students to use the feedback gathered when revising.

4. What if a student doesn’t have writing to share?

I would suggest still allowing the student to participate because he will benefit from hearing the talk of writers in the critique group, and if all goes well, this student will be left wanting to share in the future, so his writing will be done for the next time.  If this is a chronic problem, then other steps will need to be considered.

5. What happens when a student comes to you and says he didn’t get any helpful feedback from the group?

Chances are, this will happen the first time you do critique groups, so be prepared. In this situation, it’s important you let the group know they didn’t do their job, and then I suggest you take the student’s piece and read it so you can provide him with valuable feedback.

If you want to try this in your classroom, but are still feeling leery about the idea, then let me remind you of Teaching Tip #5: Do Not Be Afraid of Failure.  It won’t be perfect the first time, but if you get your students excited and stick with it you will be inspired by your community of writers.

Happy Writing!

I’d love to hear from you if you find Mr. Terupt’s tips helpful or if you have additional thoughts or questions.  You can email me at rbuyea@robbuyea.com and visit me at robbuyea.com.  Follow me on twitter @robbuyea.  Look for tip #10 to be posted on Monday, April 4th.