Quick Tip Tuesday: Read-Around Groups

June 30th, 2009

In Kelly Gallagher’s high school English classroom in Anaheim, California, students not only turn to books and magazines for models of effective writing, they also turn to each other. Kelly uses Read-Around Groups or RAGs where students read and evaluate their classmates’ work. In this week’s Quick Tip, Kelly shares some of the basic rules for RAGs, described in his book Teaching Adolescent Writers.

Read-Around Groups: Real-World Peer Models
Though students benefit immensely by examining professional writing, there is also another opportunity for students to learn by reading other writers, and that opportunity presents itself in our classrooms daily. I am speaking of the benefit that arises when we have students read each other’s writing. Getting students to willingly share their writing with one another, however, is not always an easy task given the fact that sharing writing involves risk.

How do I get my students over this fear of sharing their drafts? I tell them that every time I send a new chapter I have written to my editor, I cringe. I tell them that when I work with college-educated adults, they often have the same level of anxiousness when it comes to sharing their writing. In short, I tell them, this feeling is normal and the sooner we can work our way past it the sooner we will begin improving as writers.

One way I have students work through the nervousness of sharing their writing with one another is to set up read-around-groups, in which students are given the opportunity to read each other’s papers anonymously. There are various versions of RAGs out there; here are the rules for my classes:
Rules for RAGs
1. Students bring clean drafts to the RAGs. They do not put their names on the paper. Instead, they identify themselves by writing five-digit numbers or code words at the top of their papers.
2. Students are randomly placed in groups of four or five. The papers are collected in one pile for each group. It is better to not have all the best (or worst) writers at the same table.
3. At the start, on the teacher’s signal, the papers are passed from one group to the next. Students do not read papers by members of their own group. Each student receives one paper and reads it for one minute. Not all students will finish all papers, but in one minute they have an opportunity to get a strong feel for the paper.
4. At the teacher’s signal, papers are passed clockwise within the groups. Each student now has a new paper and has one minute to read the paper. This process is continued until everyone in the group has read all four or five papers.
5. Once everyone in the group has read the set, each group is charged with the task of determining which paper is the “best.” They have two minutes to do so. The hope is that this will produce arguments, because it is through these arguments that students think deeply about the merits of good writing.
6. One student in each group is designated as the recorder. This student records the five-digit number or code word of the winning paper.
7. Once the winner is recorded, the papers get passed again and the process repeats itself. This is continued until all students have read all papers. Remember, each group is not to score their own papers.

Once these seven steps are complete, the teacher asks the recorders for the winning entries and charts all the winning numbers (or code words) for the students to see. Generally, two or three papers in the class will receive the most votes. These papers are read aloud (again, no names are identified). As they are being read, students are asked to take bullet notes as to what made the papers the “best.” The lesson is completed by students sharing their bullet notes through a whole-class discussion, thus giving everyone in the class a clear idea of what features made these good essays.

I have found that RAGs are more beneficial to students if they do them before their final drafts are due. What good does it do them to identify features of good writing if they do not have an immediate opportunity to implement some of these discovered features into their own writing? Often I will collect essays on the due date (without names on the papers), but instead of taking them home, I will place students in RAGs. Once they have completed the process and have seen some examples of good writing, I give their papers back to them and allow one additional night for them to revise with the features of good writing fresh in their minds.

Once my students have begun sharing their writing in RAGs, I find they are more willing to begin sharing their writing in other settings as well.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

Leave a Comment


Required, hidden

Some HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs