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Random Tips

Peer Workshop Pointers

  • When you are giving peer feedback you are asked to respond to the writer as a real audience. You do not have to be an expert writer to give good feedback. You simply need to read thoughtfully and response respectfully.
  • Specific is better than general—always. “Good job” is general and unhelpful. Specific looks like this:  “I’m not sure what you mean by _____ word/phrase.” “I think you did a great job setting the context/background for your argument in the introduction.” “I like the way you argued against the quote in the second paragraph.” “I think you need more evidence/explanation/development in paragraph four.”
  • DO NOT fix grammar unless the lack of correct grammar interferes with the readers’ ability to understand the text. Read essay once with out a pen in your hand to avoid the urge to nitpick. Nitpicking a rough draft DOESN’T help. I promise.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstances, write something lazy like “good job” at the end of the essay. It’s okay to think the writer did a good job, but it’s not okay to end your feedback there. You must read carefully enough to give the writer suggestions for revision, which is what you are earning points for.
  • When in doubt, ask questions of the writer.

 What are you looking for when you read a peer’s essay?

  • Does the essay meet the prompt requirements?
  • Is there a strong, clear introduction? Is the thesis a good representation of the content of the essay? If not, how can the writer improve/rewrite it?
  • Is the reasoning strong? (Or, conversely, are there holes in the argument or fallacies at work?)
  • Does the writer include source materials that are well chosen and well integrated? Is the support varied and relevant?
  • Are there places where the essay needs more support / explanation / development / etc.? Where? Why?
  • Does the conclusion answer questions / problems posed throughout the essay? Does it bring the ideas in the essay to resolution?
  • Acknowledge where the essay is working, praise strong thinking and interesting points, and then, make suggestions, directing the writer toward revision.
The entire reason for peer workshopping is so the writer can REVISE and improve their writing. What do you need to tell them that will help them do this?

Effective Group Work

 Some of us love group discussions with our peers and others of us would rather not participate at all. However, discussion is an important learning tool—for all students, of all learning styles, whether us introverts would like it to be or not—and we will utilize it in this class. Getting good at discussion, like other skills, takes persistence and practice. Here are some tips for successful group work and discussion.

  1. Come prepared. If you haven’t done the assigned work in advance, you are dead weight to the success of the group. You’ll also have less fun and learn less stuff.
  2. Write down the directions for the group work, and take time at the beginning to assign a note taker or a speaker to report back to the class, if necessary.
  3. Be genuine and respectful. Of course, be yourself and own your thoughts and ideas, but do so with kindness. When you encounter ideas you disagree with, respond respectfully.
  4. Don’t hog the floor. Just because you think “no one else is talking,” that doesn’t mean you need to talk more. Some people require a bit of silence before they feel able to contribute. It’s ok to have a bit of quiet between speaking, even if you feel uncomfortable with it. If you feel the urge to keep talking or fill up all the quiet space, take a drink of water, breathe deeply and count to ten, write something down in your notebook—distract yourself from the urge. A little bit of quiet can give others an opening to participate. And consider this: maybe all your talking is scaring them off.
  5. Pull your own weight. Don’t let others hog the floor. EVERY person in the group should contribute to the discussion. It’s your job to speak up and not someone else’s job to make you speak. However, good group members should seek balance and draw out the quieter members with questions.
  6. Ask questions. When it seems like no one really has much to say, ask each other questions related to the task at hand.
  7. Some people have a hard time staying on task. It’s ok to remind them of your purpose. Simply say, “Alright, getting back to...” and continue with the discussion.
  8. When all else fails, go back to the original text and use the Four Questions posted below.
  9. Practice some self-reflection. When things aren't going well, consider your own contribution to the groups: 
    1. do you let others talk?
    2. do you ask others questions?
    3. do you allow for long silences so quiet students might gather their thoughts?
    4. is your voice so loud it's bothering other groups?
    5. is your voice so soft others can't hear you?
    6. do you gather your courage and contribute even if you're nervous?

Start with Four: Digging Deep in Readings & Discussions

  1. Identify one important concept, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this reading/activity.
  2. Why do you believe that this concept, theory, or idea  … is important?
  3. Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.
  4. What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?

(You cannot answer “nothing” to any of these; you must come up with something.)

Adapted from: Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). “Using the Four-Questions Technique to Enhance Learning.” Teaching of Psychology 36.1 (38-41).


Freewriting is a tool or strategy to get words on to the page, to helps us explore what we think about the world and the class readings, and to exercise our writing brains.

Best practices for freewriting:

  • Start writing and don’t stop. Keep the hand moving at all times. Even when you are stuck for what to say, keep writing. Don’t stop because momentum is one of the most crucial parts of writing. Even erasing and crossing things out slow your momentum, so don’t. Just keep moving.
  • Repeat and meander. Repetition is okay. It can even help. When you get stuck, keep the pen moving, even if that means repeating what you’ve already written. Repeat the focus topic or question if there was one. Repeat the same word or phrase over and again until a new idea occurs. Just keep writing. If you don’t know what to write, actually write that out on the paper, “I don’t’ know what to write….” Write what is going through your brain when you are feeling stuck or frustrated with the writing process.
  • Ignore the rules. Spelling, punctuation, grammar and other rules don’t matter when you freewrite. No one (besides you) will read this, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it says. Just get any words, no matter how sloppy, down on the paper.
  • Pay attention to what is happening in your brain while you write. As you practice freewriting, notice what all those voices in your brain are saying. Write it down. Metacognition is thinking about your thinking, and one stumbling block many writers face is the negative voices in their heads getting in the way of their work. Some writers call this the censor. To really improve our writing we eventually need to turn the censor off. But this takes lots of practice. The first step is simply to notice how your brain works when you write. The next step is to address those thoughts and process. The bottom line is that the censor feeds on fear and anxiety, it has a terrible work ethic, and it won’t help you write your essays. So, the ultimate trick is to feed your brain thoughts that will help you write better.

Sending Professional Email

As a student you will need to send email to your professors. It is important when you do this to maintain a professional persona. These websties offer tips on 

navigating the web. This one on netiquette and this one written by the professors at USA Today.

And this video about keeping it simple is cool. Here are some other guidelines for creating suitable email messages.

  • Use an appropriate email address. “” is not appropriate for work or school. “” and “” are. If you do not currently have an appropriate email address, all students are assigned an account through school you can activate; you can even forward it to another email account if you don’t want to check multiple emails accounts. Or, create a new email account on any of the free web-based providers and forward all your other email accounts to the new one. Most accounts allow you to set up forwarding or popping. My gmail account checks/“pops” two other email accounts for me. There are clear directions in the help menus of the email providers how to do this should you wish to set this kind of thing up for yourself.
  • Make sure your display/screen name is your actual name and not blank or a nickname. You can do this in the settings or options tabs. The display/screen name is the name of the person who owns the account, which is likely different than the email address. For instance, when students get email from me, the email address is “” and the display/screen name is “Cherri Porter.”
  • Sign your full name and the class you are taking with the professor you’re contacting at the end of the email. Professors have lots of students (sometimes with the same or similar names), and it’s helpful for us to see your full name to accurately match you to our roster. Even if we know you in person, we see your name on the roster and may not recognize an abbreviated form of your name in an email.
  • Use complete sentences and copy edit. An email is not a text message. Professors value correct language usage. Be clear, brief, and spell check; correct grammar and punctuation errors before you hit send. Compose it in Microsoft Word first, use the editing tools, and then paste into email for safety.

Writing Good Questions for Good Discussions
                                                    *Adapted From

A critical question...
  • leads to more questions
  • provokes discussion
  • cracks open a subject rather than solving it
  • concerns itself with audience and authorial intent
  • derives from a critical or careful reading of the text, balancing healthy skepticism and logical reasoning
  • addresses or ties in wider issues and / or relates back to thinking practices as a whole
  • moves you out of your own frame of reference (“what does this mean in our context?” to your author’s (“what was the author trying to convey when he/she wrote this? how would the audience have responded?”)
Protip:  If you can answer the question by doing a quick google search, it's not a good question.