Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


Getting the most value out of peer assessment

Illustration of lots of eyes looking at man holding paper

Image courtesy of AJ Cann on Flickr

Is the value of peer assessment compromised if it is used as a class control for large classes? Charl Norloff, co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading/Writing 4, discusses how to maximize the value of peer assessment.

The value of any technique, including peer assessment, lies in having a clear idea of the purpose for using it and having realistic expectations about the outcomes you seek. Here are some factors to consider.

Structure the peer work carefully so that:

Students are using the target language

Is the class monolingual? If so, then the peer work, especially if it is being used as a control, needs to be very carefully structured so students can easily do it. Otherwise, it can have the opposite effect, leading to students speaking together in their native language, often off topic, and can actually contribute to a lack of control.

So, provide clear directions for what language you expect the students to use, including structures and vocabulary required to successfully complete the task.

The task is easy enough for the students to do with minimal supervision

The level of the students is another consideration in how the peer work is structured. The peer activity has to be such that it encourages use of the target language – in this case, English. If the task is too difficult or too open-ended for the level of the students then, again, it can lead to a situation where there is poor control.

So, make sure the task is at the appropriate level for your students, and give and practice models – including vocabulary and structures – in advance of the activity so students have the language they need. Peer tasks are often best following instruction and whole group practice or assignments.

There is a time limit

Especially where control is one of the purposes of peer work, a clear time limit is also a must. Otherwise, students waste time and can easily end up off task.

So, decide on the appropriate amount of time to complete the task, subtract five minutes and announce and post the end time. You can always add a few more minutes back in if students are clearly on task and still need more time to finish.

There is an end task with clear measurable outcomes, which can be assessed

When students work in pairs or groups, to ensure that the intended work is done, an end activity which holds the students accountable is always practical. That may be where the assessment piece comes in.

If the desired result of the peer work is to be assessment, then there need to be clear and measurable outcomes attached to the peer work in order for it serve the dual purpose of control and assessment.

Again, provide clear instructions about either a written or an oral assignment that will be due (and assessed, if that’s appropriate) at the end of the peer work. Try to keep the end task one of creating or producing something – a dialogue or brief speech presented to the whole class if you’re working on speaking or a piece of writing or analysis of writing that will be collected if writing is your focus. Avoid asking students to evaluate the quality of their partner’s work. Avoid asking yes/no questions which don’t require the use of the language. Focus rather on producing language or identifying aspects of the language rather than judging the language.

Here’s an example:

I’ve assigned, and my students have written, a paragraph giving reasons why studying a foreign language is an important part of their education. Prior to the peer work, we have worked on writing a good paragraph and have read a model and identified the topic sentence, supporting ideas, and conclusion.

My task will be for students to exchange paragraphs with a partner, read the partner’s paragraph, discuss anything that isn’t understood, then complete a worksheet on the paragraph identifying the various types of sentences.

The desired learning outcome in this example is for the students to be able to identify the structure of a good paragraph.

I will give the students five to ten minutes to read their partner’s paragraph and discuss it. Then, they will have another five to ten minutes to do the worksheet. The worksheet might ask the students to 1) find the topic sentence, write it on the worksheet and underline the topic once and the controlling idea twice, 2) list the supporting reasons, 3) circle transitions words, and 4) state whether the paragraph had a concluding sentence, and if so, whether it restated the ideas in the topic sentence or not.

The final step (and end task) would be to share the answers on the worksheet with the partner. Worksheets could be collected and be part of the overall assessment of the writing. A follow up assignment would be for students to reread their own paragraphs, using the same worksheet to analyze the paragraph, and then to revise it as needed based on the worksheet.

In any activity in a language class, including peer assessment, having control of the class is a must. If peer work is done in a way that keeps a class under control, and clear realistic outcomes are expected and measurable, then the value of the work is never compromised.

This is our last question for the Q authors. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Check out our Questions for Q authors playlist for previous answers, or see all of our Questions for Q authors articles.


Creating your own materials to use in class

Teacher handing paper to studentHow can you create your own material? What do you need? What would you include? How long would it take? Charl Norloff, co-author of Q: Skills for Success Reading/Writing 4, looks at how to supplement a textbook with your own materials.

Published materials are useful tools for busy teachers as they provide appropriately-leveled lessons and activities carefully crafted to provide optimum practice for students. However, most teachers feel the need to create their own materials for their classes at some time. This is something that you can do with time and some practice, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or require a lot of supplies. Whether you make copies of your teacher-made materials for students, use technology to project them, or even simply write them on the board, depends on your situation, but here are some tips to consider when creating your own materials:

Start by asking yourself what the purpose of the activity will be

What is the objective of the lesson and which skills are you teaching? Try to write a student learning outcome, i.e., what do you want your students to be able to do after using the materials? The clearer you are about what you want the outcome to be, the better your chances of creating effective materials for your students.

Keep it simple

Don’t make the exercise or activity too complicated and keep the directions brief and clear. Consider how much time you will spend on the activity for which you are developing the materials. If it takes too much time to set up or is too difficult, it may not be worth the time spent. Ask yourself how to get the maximum engagement from your students and the most practice in the simplest and most time-efficient way.

Personalize your content

The biggest advantage of, and a reason for, creating your own materials is that you can use the context of your students and their personal lives and stories to make the materials memorable and meaningful to your students, so make your materials about your students and your community as much as possible.

Invest more time and thought into content than appearance

Your materials don’t have to look professional. Strive for materials that help the students use the language to communicate with each other.

Try the materials out yourself

Once you’ve created your materials, try them yourself to make sure they are doing what you want them to. If students are reading something, can they answer the questions without reading? If students are supposed to write using a particular grammar structure, does the prompt require the use of the structure? If the materials don’t work for you, they won’t work for your students.

Try the materials with your students

Finally, use your materials with your students. They probably won’t be perfect, but that’s OK. Make notes on what worked and what didn’t so you can adapt them if necessary for the next time. The more you create materials to fit your class and your students, the better you will become at it.

Teacher-created materials can be a great way to supplement your textbooks. Have you created materials to use in class? How successful were they?


#qskills – How do I manage disruptive behaviour in class?

Today’s question for the Q: Skills for Success authors: How do I manage disruptive behaviour in class?

Charl Norloff responds.

We are no longer taking questions. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Look out for more responses by the Q authors in the coming weeks, or check out the answers that we’ve posted already in our Questions for Q authors playlist.


#qskills – How can I help students that have a hard time learning the language?

Today’s question for the Q: Skills for Success authors: How can I help students that have a hard time learning the language (despite their effort)?

Charl Norloff responds.

We are no longer taking questions. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Look out for more responses by the Q authors in the coming weeks, or check out the answers that we’ve posted already in our Questions for Q authors playlist.