6 Peer Review and Self-Evaluation Exercises

Although commenting on and holding one-on-one conferences regarding draft and final documents are typically the primary modes of both formative and summative assessment in legal writing courses, legal writing faculty should also harness the power of other formative assessment tools to help maximize their students’ learning. Both peer review exercises and self-evaluations are effective formative assessment techniques when they focus on specific goals of individual assignments and complement individual comments and conferences, as well as classroom instruction. When these tools are well-designed and consistently incorporated into a course, they can assist our students in developing the ability to critically assess their own work and to provide helpful feedback to their peers.

The peer reviews and self-evaluations we discuss in this chapter are used for formative assessment, not for grading purposes. Thus, we do not ask students to grade their own work or that of their peers. Instead, the purpose is to provide feedback during the writing process and to develop skills in self-critique to help students become stronger, self-reliant, and confident writers. Effective peer reviews and self-evaluations focus the peer and writer on the product as well as the process so that students can transfer the skills they use to future documents.

Peer reviews help students step into the role of the audience and become critical and objective readers. [1]  By reading and commenting on another document, students will be better able to critically read their own documents.  For our courses, we use peer reviews in situations where all students have themselves drafted a version of the document that they will be reviewing for a peer (or peers), so that the feedback they provide is grounded in a common understanding of the nature and scope of the assignment and a shared experience in wrestling with the analytical and organizational issues presented by the assignment.

Self-evaluation exercises help students to critically analyze their own documents and assist them in becoming their own editors.  By understanding the goals of a particular written document and objectively assessing whether they have met those goals through a process of self-review and reflection, students can begin to step into the readers’ shoes, even though they were the writers, and to understand their performance gap.[2]  An effective self-evaluation exercise should help students to improve their particular documents and to develop efficient writing processes so that the skills learned are transferrable to future writing assignments.

To effectively incorporate peer reviews and self-evaluations into a legal writing class, careful thought must be given to (1) identifying the goals of the particular assignment; (2) crafting peer review and self-evaluation forms that focus students on a specific subset of those goals; (3) laying the foundation before the evaluation to provide context and guide students’ review of the written work; (4) debriefing after the exercise to focus on key takeaway points; (5) calibrating the timing and location of the review exercise; and (6) determining the structure of student interactions during the exercise.

  1. Goal Identification

For students to engage in effective peer reviews and self-evaluations, they must have a clear sense of the goals of the particular assignment and of the review itself. Of course, this means the professor needs to first formulate a clear understanding of the concepts and skills she expects students to focus on as they complete the assignment and which of those concepts and skills can be effectively reviewed by a peer or the individual. In first-year legal writing courses, early assignments in the course typically focus on fundamental building blocks of effective legal writing, such as large-scale organization, use of authority, and rule synthesis. As students become familiar with those basic components of effective legal writing, later assignments and the feedback that they receive may focus more on small-scale organization within individual sections or subsections, case analysis and analogical reasoning, persuasive writing techniques, and dealing with counterarguments. In upper level writing courses, individual assignments might be designed to allow students to develop further mastery of the skills introduced in the first-year legal writing course or to introduce them to different writing issues that arise in crafting specific types of documents not included in the first year curriculum.

The chapters on Problem Design and Classroom Teaching provide more discussion of an intentional approach to goal-setting for individual assignments, but some ideas are discussed below from our own experiences in first-year and upper class writing courses to help give more concrete illustrations of how effective review exercises are tied to clearly-stated goals for the particular assignment.

First-Year Legal Writing Courses: 

Many first-year legal writing programs require students to write at least one office memorandum in the fall semester of the course, using it as a vehicle for teaching foundational legal writing concepts of both organization and analysis. Depending on where the review exercise falls in the writing process and teaching progression for these concepts, you might make different choices about which of the goals of the assignment to highlight with the review exercise.

If the exercise falls in the early stages of the writing process, you might want to have students review a peer’s early draft (one that the professor will not review) and provide feedback on the structure of the draft. Having the opportunity to review and discuss one another’s organizational choices in the early stages of the writing process allows students to consider multiple possible approaches and better appreciate how the structure of the analysis impacts the reader’s understanding; it then helps students make informed decisions during their writing process by making organizational adjustments based on the feedback they receive and the ensuing discussion in class.

If the review falls in a later stage of the writing process (e.g., after the professor has provided feedback but before the final draft is due), you might want to have students focus on specific aspects of the legal analysis, tied to prior class discussions about use of legal authority and/or crafting effective legal rules. This type of feedback allows students to discuss how they interpret the body of relevant legal authority (and how their research process led them to that authority) and to test their revisions based on professor feedback. Typically, the back and forth that students have in a discussion after a self-evaluation or a peer review exercise towards the end of the writing process on a document will allow them to fine-tune their analysis and to better internalize and incorporate professor feedback. The questions that arise during a class debrief of a peer review or self-evaluation at this stage of the writing process allow the professor to add depth and clarity to student understanding of analytical concepts and for the professor to understand the students’ struggles and perceptions.

Another common writing assignment in many first-year legal writing programs is a persuasive document of some sort – typically a motion brief to a trial court or an appellate brief. These assignments often follow a unit on objective/predictive writing, and thus the goals of these later assignments tend to be more sophisticated, adding layers to foundational concepts introduced by prior assignments. Examples of some of the additional goals – beyond organization at the large scale or basic legal analysis – might include more sophisticated rule synthesis, effectively distinguishing negative authority, and persuasive writing techniques such as crafting a core theory (or theory of the case) or choosing positions of emphasis for important facts or legal arguments. Again, the self-evaluation or peer review might focus on a subset of the goals for the particular assignment, with the choice of those goals dependent upon when in the writing process review takes place and what you intend for your students to learn from the exercise itself.

Upper Level Writing Courses:

In an upper level transactional drafting course, students might be assigned to write a client email that identifies problems with a contract draft received from opposing counsel, with the specified goals of (1) identifying the most important provisions to revise/negotiate; (2) conveying the reason for concern about each of those provisions with both accuracy and clarity; (3) organizing a series of sentences/instructions, incorporating effective transitions; and (4) using appropriate tone for the purpose and audience.  A well-designed review exercise can have students focus on how successfully their drafts have achieved these or a subset of these goals and deepen their understanding of the material, allowing them to incorporate that deeper understanding into a subsequent revision of the document or future writing projects.

  1. Effective Peer Review and Self-Evaluation Forms

Peer review and self-evaluation exercises will typically be most effective if they are guided by a discrete set of questions that students are asked to answer about their own or their peer’s document. These forms[3] serve as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, professor feedback on student writing, and thus they need not attempt to provide broad feedback on multiple aspects of the document. Instead, choose among the various goals of the particular assignment and craft a review form that focuses students on a subset of those goals that are concrete and can be assessed without the need for expertise in the subject matter or deep familiarity with the type of document being reviewed.

First, students should understand the general goals of the peer review or self-evaluation, which should be reflected in the instructions provided in the forms that you craft to guide their review.  Many students believe there is a “correct” way to write the document and therefore look to provide “answers” during the review process. As a result, when left to their own devices, students tend to focus on concrete and easily-identifiable issues, such as citation and grammar, which may not be the professor’s intended focus for the exercise.[4]  Instead, it is important to tell the students that there is no one right way to write the document and direct them to focus on how the legal reader might react when reading the memo or brief.  This strategy is easier for peer review exercises, as the reader is not the writer. In self-evaluation exercises, it helps if there is a significant break between the time when the student reviews her writing and when she actually wrote the document (such as a spring break) so that she can more easily play the role of an objective legal reader when reviewing her own writing.  For either a peer review or self-evaluation exercise, a well-designed form that guides the students as they review the document and clearly identifies their purpose in that review can help to keep the focus of the exercise on the concepts and skills that the exercise is intended to highlight.

Second, to serve the purpose of providing formative assessment from the perspective of the legal reader, the specific questions that students are asked to answer about their own or their peer’s document should focus on writing choices, such as organization, choice of authority, use of authority, rule crafting, analogical reasoning, completeness of analysis, clarity of expression, etc.  In self-evaluations, these forms typically ask the writer to step into the reader’s shoes by asking questions that a typical legal reader might ask when reading about a new issue.  In peer reviews, these forms ask similar questions focusing on the legal reader’s perspective and might also ask questions that require the reader to compare techniques (or specific primary law) used in this document to the document written by the peer.

For example, if one of your main goals for an assignment is for students to learn how to effectively organize a legal memorandum at the large scale (i.e., organizing around elements of a legal claim), then the review form could ask targeted questions about the document’s organization, tied to readings and classroom discussions that have preceded the review exercise. Focusing on large scale organization, students might be asked to create a reverse outline of the document (“a reader-based outline”), providing the reader’s perspective of what each paragraph addresses. Students might be asked whether the structure of the legal analysis is consistent with the document’s introduction to the law (what some textbooks call a “roadmap”). In a peer review, the peer might be asked whether her own document was organized in a similar or different manner to that of the peer’s document and to evaluate the pros and cons of any different structural choices made in the two documents.

Focusing on smaller-scale organization within an individual section, students might be asked to underline where they see what looks like a legal rule in the analysis of an issue or sub-issue and to indicate whether they see a complete legal rule at the start of the analysis of the issue or whether new rules are introduced in the middle or end of that analysis. The review form might have them focus on topic sentences and concluding sentences for each section and subsection and ask the reviewers to indicate whether they think these bookends to a section provide adequate guidance to the reader about the substance of the discussion in that section.

The more concrete the questions on the peer review form, the more control the professor will have about the focus of students’ review and discussion of one another’s documents or their evaluation of their own document.  Guided by a well-crafted form, both peer review and self-evaluation exercises can be designed to address a finite range of specific concepts or skills and can serve as a “check” on students’ understanding of those concepts or skills.


Sample Peer Review Form

From an Advanced Legal Writing course:

Contract Drafting Goals and Peer Review Form

From a first-year Legal Practice course, for a draft Statement of the Case section from an appellate brief:

Peer Review Worksheet for Brief SOC


Sample Self-Evaluation Form

From a first-year Legal Practice course:

Self Evaluation Checklist




  1. Foundational Work Before a Review Exercise

Not only must the professor have a clear idea of individual goals for the particular assignment and for the exercise that are reflected in a well-crafted form to guide the students’ peer review or self-evaluation, but the professor must also make sure that those goals are clearly explained to students before they engage in the exercise. Ideally, the goals of the particular assignment will have been explained when the assignment was first given. Once the professor has clearly identified goals for an assignment, both readings and class discussions can be used to build the necessary scaffolding for an effective review, showing students how the assignment’s goals can be effectively met through discussion of examples and modeling how to choose among competing drafting choices.[5]  Laying the necessary foundation for students to understand the specific goals of an assignment in at least an abstract manner and how those goals are accomplished (or not) in samples that the class discusses as a whole enhances the students’ ability to provide effective feedback on a peer’s work or to thoughtfully evaluate their own writing.

Thus, simply handing out a list of questions to consider when reviewing a document or a checklist of goals to be met by the assignment is often insufficient to ensure that students understand the criteria for successfully accomplishing the intended objectives. Even an instruction in a review form that seems relatively concrete – such as “underline every rule statement that you see” – might not have a clear shared meaning if students do not understand what “counts” as a rule statement. As the year progresses and students develop a foundational understanding of some of the concepts addressed in review exercises, less explanation will be needed of the criteria for these foundational questions, but the newer, more sophisticated concepts covered in later review exercises will still need to be illustrated and explained as a predicate to an effective review. Therefore, in addition to establishing clear goals and crafting thoughtful review forms, professors should lay the foundations and provide context before peer review and self-evaluation exercises.

One way to provide such context, either in the class before the exercise or at the start of the class in which the review will take place, is to devote time reviewing samples with the class as a whole, in which you talk through how you would apply the review form questions to the sample and/or to identify and discuss strong and weak samples. This sort of “thinking out loud” by the professor models the thought process you would like the students to go through when working on the peer review or self-evaluation exercise, and it will help to give students greater confidence in their ability to effectively critique the document. It is also effective in helping students understand both the review process and the substance of the product.

Giving students strong samples before they write the assignment is also a helpful foundational technique, allowing students to model their own work after examples that demonstrate successful accomplishment of the goals of the assignment.  However, be careful not to provide “the” strong sample on the same issue as their particular assignment, or else you can expect your students to simply copy that sample.  A more effective way to provide strong samples is to use examples that are different from the substantive issue analyzed in your assignment, but that illustrate the specific concepts and skills that are your primary goals for the assignment.  For example, if you want students to understand how to organize a piece of legal analysis around discrete elements of proof, give them samples that do this well and discuss in class why the samples are effective at accomplishing these goals from the perspective of an objective legal reader. Using the relevant questions on the review form to focus the class discussion of each specific example will provide concrete guidance to the students when they later use the form for their peer review or self-evaluation.

Discussing samples that are not very effective is also helpful in modeling review exercises for students. [6]  Here, you can use samples from the same substantive issue they are working on in their documents.  Ask them to discuss what is working and what is not working, as well as techniques for making the samples more effective.  Your class discussion can model focusing on discrete issues (such as large-scale organization, rule synthesis, case comparisons) so that the students understand an effective review process and begin to see the sample improve in substance.  Using the peer review or self-evaluation form will be helpful here as well; you can use one full sample and go through each question on the form or use shorter pieces from within a document (such as a roadmap or a case comparison) and focus the students on specific questions on the form.

A variety of options exist for using samples to set up the foundation for the review exercise.  You can provide the samples to the students before class and ask them to work through them on their own or in pairs or groups.  In the alternative, you can provide the students the samples during class and give them time to read them in class and possibly, if time allows, discuss them in groups. If there is insufficient time for small group discussions of samples, then you can lead a large-group discussion.  The samples can be discussed in the class prior to the exercise or at the start of the class in which the exercise takes place (again, if time allows).  Regardless of when you do it or how much time you allocate for it, the key to using samples as a foundation for a review exercise is to ensure that the discussion leaves students with an understanding of how to apply the criteria for evaluating their own or another’s work with respect to the goals of the review exercise.  When this discussion builds off of the readings and models an effective review process, students understand how specific concepts apply to their work or to that of their peer’s writing and helps them when they begin the review exercise.

Finally, before having students begin a specific review exercise, consider giving them the form that they will be asked to fill out in advance and asking them to come to class prepared with any questions that they have about the questions on the form. We also recommend providing this form or a  checklist (which might cover more goals than the exercise is intended to address) before the students begin writing their initial drafts so that expectations and goals are set out from the beginning of each assignment.

  1. Feedback After the Review Exercise – Peer Discussions, Self-Reflections, and Class Debriefing

Once the students have completed the peer review or self-evaluation form, it is helpful to follow up with discussion and feedback. This debriefing will provide the students with an opportunity to discuss specific writing techniques, the writing process, questions that came up during the exercise, and the substance of the document. It will also help you to understand the students’ struggles and to enhance their learning from the exercise.

For peer reviews, it is crucial to provide students with an opportunity to explain their feedback to one another and ask questions about any written peer feedback that is unclear.  These post-review discussions among peers also highlight possible misunderstanding of the goals of the assignment or the common evaluation standards and allows for immediate correction of that misunderstanding if the professor is available during the discussion period for students to call over and consult with when they are uncertain about their feedback to (or from) their peer. We recommend setting aside as much time for discussion as for completion of the review form in the peer review session and that the professor circulate throughout the room during the discussion, stepping in where needed to correct misunderstandings or to answer student questions and using what she observes during the discussion period to inform how she debriefs the class at the end of the session.

For self-evaluations, it is also important to provide students with an opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback.  Similar to peer reviews, this debriefing can occur in the classroom with full class discussions, small group discussions, or peer-to-peer sessions.  Alternatively, the feedback can occur in conferences where the professor and student can discuss the student’s self-evaluation and possibly compare it to the professor’s feedback.

For either peer reviews or self-evaluations (in class or in conferences), the debriefing can be designed to accomplish any number of objectives, but its main purpose should be to make sure that students leave the session with a clear idea of their own next steps with regard to the goals of the assignment addressed by the exercise.

  • One option might be to use the debrief as an opportunity for self-reflection: have the students take a few minutes to write down what their three or four top priorities will be in revising the document in light of the feedback they received from the peer review or the conference. If you have them submit those priorities to you, it will not be too time-consuming for you to review the students’ submissions and send brief emails to each student after the class that confirm or edit the students’ priorities to ensure that they are focusing on the main goals of the assignment and understanding what is expected of them.
  • Another option for the debrief in class for a peer review is to ask for volunteers to describe something particularly impressive or strong that they saw in their peer’s work. This option allows the entire class to hear what some of the most effective choices were in accomplishing the goals of the assignment and to leave on a positive note, giving students a chance to praise one another and to highlight what they have learned from their peers.
  • A third, more directed, option, is to walk through the specific goals addressed by the peer review or self-evaluation form and solicit student input/discussion on issues that arose regarding how and whether individual goals were met by specific writing choices in the documents they reviewed. This option allows lingering questions or disagreements among students to be addressed by the class as a whole and helps to avoid misunderstandings in the criteria for evaluating the goals of the assignment that could hinder the rewriting process for some students.

The debriefing option that you choose will often be a function of the time that you have to engage in a debriefing of the review. Keep in mind, though, that the more time that you have, the more opportunity you will have to ensure that students will learn from and use the review exercise to make effective revisions to their draft documents. If you are concerned about having sufficient time for discussion among students and a professor debrief, consider paring down the scope of the exercise itself. It is more effective to conduct a peer review exercise that only addresses a small subset of the goals of an assignment than to try to accomplish too much and run out of time to sufficiently discuss and debrief the students on what their “takeaways” from the exercise will be.

  1. Timing and Location of the Exercise

Three aspects of timing of peer and self-review exercises are worth considering: (a) when in the course the review takes place; (b) how much time is devoted to the review exercise; and (c) whether all of the expected review time will take place inside the classroom or whether some will take place outside of the classroom. The answers to each of the above questions will help to determine the nature and scope of the review exercise.

     a.  Timing During the Semester

First, consider the timing for these reviews so that they occur during the course when students will benefit the most in terms of product and process.  Keep in mind that the purpose and scope of peer and self-review exercises will change as the course progresses and students become more conscious of their learning goals and comfortable with the review process.

Reviews that take place early in the course or at the beginning of a new unit (i.e., when new concepts are introduced) should ideally be more concrete and narrow in their focus, so that there is more time to set up and model the review process and to discuss what students should take away from the exercise when it is completed. The less familiar that students are with the content covered by the review exercise, the more focused it should be on a discrete part of a document and on a clearly-described, narrow goal for that part of the document.


Right after the professor introduces the concept of rule synthesis from multiple case authorities in class, the assignment for the next class could be for students to write a synthesized rule for one of the elements of a claim to be addressed in an office memorandum and to cite the authority from which they have synthesized the rule.

 At the start of that class, students could be placed in small groups to review and discuss one anothers’ draft rule statements with two or three concrete guidelines for evaluating one anothers’ rules and perhaps asked to agree on one rule statement that they think best satisfies those guidelines.

 Each group could then share its proposed rule with the class as a whole during the debrief discussion and explain how it is supported by the cited authority, giving the professor a chance to provide feedback on the proposed rules and to underscore that, although some rules might be better crafted than others, there are many possible “correct” rules that can be synthesized from the same body of authority.

 Peer exercises such as this, conducted early in the writing process when a concept is first introduced, give students feedback that is immediately useful in both deepening their understanding of the concept and improving the quality of the draft that they ultimately submit for professor review.


As the course progresses and more scaffolding is in place from readings, classroom instruction, and practice by students, peer and self-review exercises can be broadened to include multiple goals and more abstract evaluative questions, reflecting the students’ greater understanding of what an effective document looks like and their ability to stand in the shoes of the intended legal audience for the document.

Consider the timing of self-evaluations as compared to peer evaluations.  It can be helpful to start with self-evaluations early on, as students might feel too insecure about their own writing to share their work with other students or feel incompetent to review a peer’s writing.  As the semester progresses, students should feel more comfortable with both and appreciate the ability to view a peer’s writing for comparison’s sake. Partnering students early in the course for small-group exercises in class can also help them to begin feeling more comfortable with one another at an early stage and lay a foundation for effective peer review, particularly if you assign students to peer partners with whom they have previously worked on other in-class exercises.

  b. Amount of Time for Exercises

As has been suggested above, the amount of time needed for each exercise can vary substantially depending upon the length of material students are asked to review and evaluate and the number of goals that the exercise will focus upon.  An effective peer or self-review could take as little as ten minutes in a class period (e.g., reviewing a discrete paragraph, a roadmap, or an issue statement) or as long as weeks for a full document review, such as a peer evaluation on an opposing side’s brief, to account for foundational work, the review itself, and feedback.  Your goals will determine the amount of time necessary for an effective review process, and your class time might force you to narrow some of those goals.

Be careful not to expect too much of your students in the beginning of the semester; narrow the focus and spend time explaining the “why” of each exercise.  As the semester (or year) progresses and students gain confidence in their evaluation abilities, you can spend more time on evaluation exercises and students will be able to learn more from each of these experiences.

  c.  Location of Exercises

A final consideration relating to timing and location is where these exercises take place.  These decisions will go hand in hand with the amount of time you decide is warranted for each exercise.  While students can gain some of the foundational concepts through readings, much of the context and set up for the reviews will need to be done in class, such as explaining the assignment and the goals and reviewing samples.  However, the reviews themselves can be done either in class or outside of class (or both).  Feedback can be accomplished in the classroom as well as in conferences. In addition, you might assign a reflection piece as homework outside of class.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, it is often best to carve out time for the more in-depth peer review exercises to take place inside of the classroom setting. Doing so will help to avoid problems that arise when one peer partner devotes substantial time and effort to completing the review form and his or her partner rushes through it without much thought, often leaving both partners unhappy with the peer review process. To help with the time constraints, you could ask students to skim over their partners’ documents before the class itself but let them know that they should not begin inserting any comments, as they will have a targeted review form to complete during the class session. In these situations, we recommend not providing the specific peer review form in advance of the class, so that all students are spending the same amount of time providing feedback to one another.

For a lengthy peer review exercise, if the full class time is used for completion of the form itself, students’ assignment for the next class could be to hold a 30-minute conference with their peer partners outside of class, and the next class could be used for the professor to debrief the class as a whole. Alternatively, the students could be required to submit a reflection after their out-of-class conferences that the professor could review and respond to if necessary to correct misunderstandings.

Self-evaluations, on the other hand, do not raise the same concerns about equity – there are no partners to disappoint or overwhelm.  However, if you decide to ask students to complete self-evaluation forms outside of class, it is helpful to give students a time range for completing the evaluation. For example, you might tell students to spend no more than 20 minutes on a shorter self-evaluation, but ask them to spend up to an hour on a longer self-evaluation.

When peer review or self-evaluation forms are completed inside the classroom, be sure to allow sufficient time for the particular form to be completed and to let students know how much time they will have, with warnings about how much time is left as the time passes.  Inevitably, some students will complete the form more quickly than others. If you are having peer review partners hold in-class discussions after they complete and review their review forms, you can announce that students should let their partners know when they are done and then ask them all to finish up once about half of the students are finished, leaving some questions to be covered in the discussion rather than in the written feedback form.  As a result, some partners will begin their discussions while other teams are finishing up their comments, but this sort of controlled chaos in the classroom is productive and an unavoidable part of the process.

For in-class self-evaluations, plan in advance what you will ask students to do who finish before others. If you will be asking them to submit a post-evaluation reflection to you, those who finish before the allotted time is up can start writing that reflection and those who use the full amount of in-class time can write the reflection outside of class.  If you are not having the students submit a reflection after a self-evaluation exercise, you can tell students who finish early that they can begin revising their document in response to their self-evaluation, or you can have them hold in-class discussions with others who have finished early to “teach” one another about what they have learned from the self-evaluation process.

  1. Structure of Student Interactions in Peer Reviews and Self-Evaluations

A final consideration when designing both peer reviews and self-evaluations that primarily take place within the classroom is how you will structure students’ interactions with one another during the exercise.  Peer review exercises create the most potential for student interaction, but self-evaluation exercises can also be structured to include student interactions that enhance the learning process. [7]

When designing peer review exercises, consider whether the particular review and time available for it lends itself to a one-on-one exchange or whether students can be given the opportunity to review and provide feedback on multiple students’ papers. The advantage of a one-on-one exchange is that it allows for a deeper, more time-intensive review and for a more in-depth discussion.  Students are often less intimidated by having a single peer review their work; exchanging with multiple peers can sometimes amplify an insecure student’s feelings of inadequacy.  However, one-on-one exchanges can be hampered by disparities in the quality of each partner’s work product; a strong student might be of great help to his or her partner, but may not receive thoughtful or helpful feedback from a partner who has not spent much time on the assignment or who is struggling in the course.  Pairing two weaker students can also create problems, as they might provide inaccurate feedback or point their partners in the wrong direction if they have not focused on the foundational classes that establish criteria for evaluating one another’s work.

Peer reviews that are designed to have students review and provide feedback on the work of multiple peers – and receive feedback on their own work from multiple peers – have related advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages include creating an opportunity for students to see how several of their peers have tackled the assignment, expanding their understanding of the possibilities available to them for structuring and composing an effective document.  Students will also receive feedback from more than one peer, giving them the perspectives of several readers and mitigating the problems associated with disparate skill levels among peer partners.  However, peer review exercises involving multiple partners take longer to complete, and they also require more time for discussion.  In addition, they can be intimidating for students who are unsure of themselves or who are uncomfortable with their assigned peers.  One way to mitigate these potential problems with multi-peer exchanges is to place students in work groups early in the semester so that they become comfortable with their peer group well before the peer review takes place.  Although students might be more comfortable if they pick their own groups for multi-peer exchanges, we caution against using this strategy before you know your students well, as self-selected groups might not take the exercise as seriously as assigned groups and some students might feel isolated if they have no natural group to join with in the exercise.

One approach that can be both fun and effective for students is a “speed commenting” peer review exercise.  The exercise can be designed by dividing the topics for the review into three or four categories and crafting three or four questions for each category, creating one page of questions for each category. Students then can be divided into groups of four or five, either by assignment or based on where they are sitting in class. They are then given 5-8 minutes to answer the questions on the first page for another student’s document, after which they turn the page and pass the form and the document to the next student, and they then have 5-8 minutes to answer the questions on the second page of the document they are handed.  In this manner, in a 20-30 minute period, each student will review 3-4 other students’ papers but will be looking for different issues in each paper, and the group can spend 15-20 minutes afterwards discussing their reactions to one another’s drafts and how they will proceed in the revision process.

Sample of “Speed Commenting” Peer Review Exercise

From a first-year Legal Practice course, evaluating a draft section of an appellate brief (dealing with the scope of a warrantless search incident to arrest):

Speed Commenting Peer Review for Section of Draft Brief


Self-evaluation exercises are of course more solitary in nature, but they also create an opportunity for student interactions that can enhance their learning.  In-class self-evaluation exercises can incorporate a discussion period after students evaluate their own writing. Either in pairs or small groups, students can reflect on the self-evaluation in an organized fashion, discussing with one another what issues or concerns arose in the course of their self-evaluations, what they learned from the exercise, what surprised them when they answered targeted questions about their own writing, and/or what their next steps will be in improving their next piece of writing.  When given time and opportunity to reflect on the self-evaluation exercise in the classroom, students deepen their understanding of the targeted concepts and skills and the professor has an opportunity to engage with students and reinforce their takeaways from the exercise.


[1] See generally Daniel Reinholz, The Assessment Cycle: A Model for Learning through Peer Assessment, 41 Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 301 (2015), available at doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1008982 (detailing the benefits of peer review as a formative assessment tool); Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart, Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom : A Guide for Instructional Leaders (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development 2009), available at https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/lib/georgetown/detail.action?docID=513966# (explaining the benefits of creating a culture of formative assessment and providing concrete suggestions for how to do so in a K-12 educational setting).

[2] See generally Reinholz, supra note 1 at 302 (explaining that “[s]elf-assessment requires an individual to: (1) accurately conceive the desired performance, (2) accurately conceive their actual performance and (3) act to close the gap between desired and actual performance”).

[3] Some authors use the term “rubric” to encompass both grading tools for teachers and forms designed by the teacher to guide peer review or self-evaluation exercises. See, e.g., Olympia Duhart, The “F” Word: The Top Five Complaints (and Solutions) About Formative Assessment, 67 J. Legal Educ. 531, 551 n. 106 (Winter 2018).  We intentionally do not use that term here to underscore the non-graded aspect of these formative assessment tools. In fact, rubrics given to students to highlight the goals of the assignment and used by teachers in grading the final written product will likely mirror the forms used to guide peer review and self-assessment exercises, but the forms we refer to here typically will encompass only a subset of the overall goals for the assignment.

[4] See Moss & Brookhart, supra note 1 at 47 (“In any subject, feedback that provides the ‘right’ answer for students instead of inviting them into some learning process that will help them to understand the work is not effective”).

[5] Reinholz, supra note 1 at 303 (noting that scaffolding “through instructor modelling, class discussions and feedback on students’ peer assessments” is “crucial because peer assessment is a novel activity for students”).

[6] See Moss & Brookhart, supra note 1 at 26, 28 (suggesting a review and discussion of examples of varying quality as a useful strategy in helping students to understand what they are seeking to accomplish and how to best meet the objectives of an assignment). As Moss & Burkhart explain, “Sharing only good examples helps students envision a target. Sharing a range of examples, from good to poor, allows students to develop a conceptual understanding of the criteria.” Id. at 34.

[7] See, e.g., Moss & Brookhart, supra note 1 at 29 (“Directed student conversation can be a powerful way for students to develop comprehension of their learning target”); Reinholz, supra note 1 at 312 (noting that “activities that do not include peer conferencing are less likely to help students develop collaboration skills because they provide fewer opportunities for student interactions”).


Legal Writing Pedagogy: Commenting, Conferencing, and Classroom Teaching Copyright © 2013 by Diana Donahoe and Julie Ross. All Rights Reserved.