These materials are a set of handouts developed by Ramona Ilea, at Pacific University.  They were used at a presentation at the 2008 American Association of Philosophy Teachers, in Guelph, Canada, August 2008, and are used here with permission of the author.

Doing Peer Reviews in Philosophy Classes
Ramona Ilea

(Pacific University, Philosophy Department,

 What Students Get from Having Their Work Reviewed

Peer reviews:

o       Emphasize revisions and polishing

o       Provide an incentive for finishing a draft well before the deadline

o       Provide a different point of view and objections they haven’t though of

o       Ask for further justification, depth and detail than the student had initially provided.

o       Give students a broader audience than just the professor and/or TA.

o       Give the students feedback before they get a grade

o       Give students a chance to revise their paper further before turning it in.

o       Demonstrate what scholars do on a regular basis

 What Students Get from Reviewing Others’ Work

o       Get a new perspective on how to approach the paper topic

o       Notice mistakes that they might make too

o       See how much better or worse the paper can be

o       It shows students how others struggle with writing and thus, it creates a bonding experience.

o       Helps students understand what grading is like

 Advantages for the Professor

o       Helps you grade papers by improving papers before they get to you

o       Help students turn their attention on specific aspects of the paper that you want them to focus on: excellent organization, good use of textual evidence, or presenting a clear argument.

o       Provide students with an incentive to finish a draft of their paper early

o       Saves you time and validates your grading since students often realize their biggest weaknesses when their receive feedback from their peers.

o       While it may be time consuming to figure out how to set up the peer review, once you’ve done it once, it’s easy to do it again and again

Tips for doing Peer Reviews

Provide Guidance

o       If students will be doing in-class peer reviews, ask them to bring 3-4 copies of their papers to class.

o       Explain to students why you do peer reviews: go over the points stressed above.

o       Decide what you want students to focus on; they cannot and should not give feedback on everything.

o       Make sure students don’t take the easy way out and correct grammar, typos, etc.

o       Need to make sure students do not try to “be nice” and abstain from providing any criticism.

o       You can provide students with a sample paper that has been peer reviewed well – you can put that on an overhead projector and take 5 minutes to go over it.

o       Go over some typical feedback that is not what you want to see because it’s overly vague, overly positive, overly negative, etc.

o       Or you can model it for them: get some students to volunteer their paper a day early, choose paper, copy it on overhead and then review it in class in front of them – the way they will need to review it (not the way you usually grade papers).  The idea is to model the process.


There are a lot of different ways in which one can structure peer reviews.

o       They can review outlines, introductions, certain sections, OR full drafts.  If you don’t want to use up too much class time, get the students to just review each other’s introductions.

o       They can do peer reviews in class OR outside of class OR online.

o       Ask students to sign their names after reviewing a paper OR do it anonymously.

o       They can read papers aloud OR do a quiet peer review.

o       They can work alone OR in pairs or in small groups

o       Alone: students read the paper alone and offer feedback on the paper or/and on the feedback form

o       Group (or pairs) + reading aloud: In their groups, members take turns reading their drafts aloud as the other students fill in the feedback forms.  Give them extra time to write down comments before moving on to another paper.  You may choose to have them read their own paper or have them exchange and read another group member’s paper.

o       They can be paired with students who are as good (or as weak) as them OR be paired randomly.  Pair students with similar personalities, genders, political views, etc. together OR pair students with others who are different than them.

o       More unusual ideas:

o       Exchange papers with another philosophy class.

o       Divide students into pairs or groups and have them meet outside of class to do peer reviews.  Grade (at least with a check, check minus, check plus) the reviews.

Other Tips

o       Do peer reviews more than once in a semester.  Students get better with practice.

o       Explain to students that they don’t have to incorporate all feedback received, but they should not discount comments lightly either.

o       If you allow the students to take others’ work home with them (or if you have them post their papers to a web site), you should be very careful of potential plagiarism.

o       Provide an incentive for doing good peer reviews.  Grade them, or at ask students to hand in reviewed papers when they hand in their own paper (a few minutes skimming the reviews is enough to evaluate them).  Or make this part of their participation grade.  Or ask students to submit a cover memo with their finished paper in which they explain how they revised their paper in response to the peer reviews they received.  At the very least, if students are offering oral feedback, observe the discussion.  If they are offering written feedback, take time to walk around and read their comments.

Guidelines for Discussing Essay Plans for the Final Paper

Put your name on the paper you are reviewing.  Write comments at the end of the paper for each of these 9 points.  Number them clearly: 1 through 9.

1.      Read the essay plan once without making any written comments.  First impressions are important.  What is your general impression after the first read?  Is the author saying something deep or interesting?  Is the thesis/main idea of the paper clear?  Is the author defending this idea well?  Does the paper have a logical structure?  Make a comment at the end of the paper about this.

2.      Go back to the beginning and start making written comments.  Look closely at the THESIS statement.  Does the thesis do what the paper topic asked (or is it focusing on public policy or communal actions)?  Is the thesis short and to the point or is more like a whole summary of the paper?  Is the meaning clear or could it be more clearly stated?  Is the thesis saying something deep or interesting?

3.      Consider each line ARGUMENT for the thesis: Is it convincing?  Is it clear?  Does it clearly support the thesis or is it only tangentially related to it?

4.      ORGANIZATION: Is the overall structure coherent?  Could it be improved?  Does it seem like each paragraph will be centered around one and only one idea or do the ideas need to be separated more?  Does the paper flow well or does it seem rather choppy?

5.      Has the author really engaged with REQUIRED COURSE MATERIALS (one theory and two principles, and at least two other course materials)?  Does it seem like each of these is used in a serious way?  What other course materials could s/he use?

6.      Are the arguments made CONVINCING?  Could you point out something the author hasn’t though of?

7.      Do you think the paper displays DEPTH AND SOPHISTICATION in the approach to the paper topic, or is this something the author needs to work more on?

8.      Does this look like a full essay plan or is it rather skimpy?

9.      Make some general comments.  Include at least one POSITIVE and one NEGATIVE comment.

Peer Review of Drafts

 Put your name on the paper you will be reviewing.

 1. Underline the author’s THESIS.  Is this as clear as it could be?  Is it saying something original and interesting?

 2. Does the author provide a ROADMAP of the paper (a summary of what s/he will do in the paper) in the introduction?  If so, does this make sense?  Does the topic seem too narrow or too large?  Again, make some comments if it’s interesting or superficial.

 3. Make suggestions on the paper for how the INTRODUCTION could be reworded, rearranged, made more interesting, or generally improved.

 4. SKIM the paper (do not spend time looking at grammar, or even reading full paragraphs).  Just try to identify the TOPIC SENTENCE of each paragraph (or main idea in sentence form).  Often, this is found at the beginning or end of a paragraph.  Underline each of them.

 5. Now, look at the author’s ARGUMENT.  Based on the topic sentences alone, answer these questions. Provide detailed answers on another sheet of paper. Do not simply answer yes or no.

A. Are there some paragraphs that do not seem to clearly support the thesis (e.g. the author seems to go on a tangent)? Or the topic sentence needs to be restated to more clearly support the thesis?

B. After looking at the topic sentences in order, make notes on the paper on places where the logical flow of argument from paragraph to paragraph is particularly good and where it could be improved.

 6. PADDING.  Write something like “Is this necessary?” or “Padding?” next to places where the author seems to include information that is not useful or necessary for proving the thesis (or the topic sentence of that paragraph).

 7. QUOTES.  Does the author give too many quotes?  (Does it seem like s/he is using quotes as a way to make the paper look longer?)  Is the author introducing the quotes well?  Does s/he provide proper citations when s/he is quoting or paraphrasing?  Make a comment about the quotes at the end of the paper or in the margins (next to the unnecessary or the unnecessarily long quotes).

 8. Is the author using COURSE MATERIALS well?  Are there enough?  Are they used in a careful, full, and accurate manner?  What could be done better?  Make some notes about this.

 9. As you read the paper, make notes next to places where the author is clear, unclear, saying something original or interesting, stating the obvious, not going in enough depth, rambling, etc.

 10. What are some strengths and weaknesses of this paper?  Make at least one positive comment and at least one negative comment at the end of the paper.  Try to be constructive and polite. You could comment on writing style, organization, use of course materials, attention to detail, originality and sophistication, etc.


In-Class Peer Review Workshops

Three Models that Involve Students Reading Papers Aloud


 The first two exercises are taken from the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing:

 Model #1:

Response-Centered Workshops:

  1. Ask students to bring in four copies of their papers.
  2. Divide the class into groups of three or four students.
  3. Ask one student to read a paper aloud.
  4. Students then make notes on their copies,  making note of where they understand, are confused, think the writer makes a good point, feel they need more information, etc.
  5. Each group member orally explains his/her notes.
  6. Each writer member listens without making comments.

 Model #2:

Advice-Centered Workshops:

  1. Ask students to bring in four copies of their papers.
  2. Divide the class into groups of four students.
  3. Each group of four divides into pairs.
  4. Each pair exchanges papers with the other pair.
  5. Working collaboratively, each pair reviews the two papers, one at a time, orally discussing the paper.
  6. The reviewers write down advice to the writer on the paper.
  7. Papers are returned to their owners.

If time permits, the group members discuss their comments orally.

 Model #3

Turn page over

 (Modified version of handout at

 This model is designed for groups of three students; each should have a copy of the paper and a response-form for each paper. The process will be repeated three times. Allow 15 minutes/paper.


Step #1


Writer: read your paper aloud. Stop after the first paragraph.


Peers: respond to the following questions:

1. Did the introduction give you a good idea of what the paper would be about?  Was the thesis  


   2. Does it sound like the author is doing something interesting in this paper?  Is there a clear

       and original argument?



Step #2


Writer:  continue to read to the end of the paper, while peers jot down ideas or make notes on the paper.



   1. What are the main parts of the argument?

   2. What parts of this argument could use more support?

   3. Which parts of the paper need improvement and which are done well?

   4. Now that you are done listening to the whole paper, ask the write to reread the introduction.  

       Does the paper really do what was promised in the introduction?

(Or ask whatever questions get to what you want students to pay attention to)


Step #3


Writer: What 2-3 issues or questions about your paper would you like the group to address?


Peers: Briefly answer the writer’s questions.



Step #4


After the discussion, writers should collect the peer responses to their papers and, for the next class, summarize the comments of the peers and write a paragraph describing their revision plan.




Author’s Name: ___________________                    Your Name: ______________________


Peer Review of Final Paper: Focus on Introduction and Conclusion
(This handout was borrowed from Marcus Welsh, Pacific University)



Put your name on the paper you are commenting on and on this sheet.


1. Read the introduction.  You only get one chance to make a good first impression! Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the introduction give a good first impression?

q       Is the introduction organized well?

q       Are there any errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, logic that are distracting?

2. Roadmap, anyone? (some of this info may be in the second paragraph) Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the introduction contain a clear thesis?

q       Does it convey why this topic is important?

q       Does it give any idea as to how the author will proceed with addressing the topic?

q       Does it give the reader an idea of what information (sources) will be used?

q       Does it let the reader know of the general organization of the paper?

3. Are you interested yet?? Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the introduction capture your interest?

q       Is it interesting or boring?

q       Is the introduction creative?

4. Does the author use any of these techniques? Make comments on the paper too

q       an intriguing example

q       a provocative quotation

q       a puzzling scenario

q       a vivid (perhaps unexpected) anecdote

q       a thought-provoking question

q       other (describe):

5. Does the writer use any of these non-recommended techniques? Make comments on the paper too

q       The Place Holder Introduction

q       The Restated Question Introduction

q       The Webster’s Dictionary Introduction

q       The Dawn of Man Introduction

q       The Book Report Introduction



6. Is the thesis worded in a straightforward and confident way? Can you suggest better wording for the thesis?  Make comments on the paper


7. Comment directly on the paper regarding the wording of any other sentences in the introduction.


8. Make suggestions on paper for how the introduction could be reworded, rearranged, made more interesting, or generally improved.



 1. Read the conclusion again. Read the introduction again.

 2. Does the conclusion basically say the same thing as the introduction? Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the conclusion simply restate the thesis?

q       Does the conclusion do more than restate the thesis?


3. Does the conclusion seem to provide a bridge for the reader back to ‘reality’?  Make comments on the paper too


4. Does the conclusion seem like a conclusion?  Does it offer closure to the discussion, or does it leave the reader unexpectedly hanging? Make comments on the paper too


5. The last word on the subject. Period. Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the conclusion summarize and synthesize the author’s thoughts?

q       Does it demonstrate the importance of the writer’s ideas?

q       Does it serve to propel the reader to a new view of the topic?

q       Does it leave a good final impression?

 6. So what? Make comments on the paper too

q       Sometimes when reading an essay, the reader may ask themselves “so what?”  In other words, the paper may be interesting but not seem to be relevant to the reader. Does this conclusion help answer the question “so what?” in regards to the author’s topic?

q       Does the conclusion make effective new connections with broader issues?

q       Does the conclusion open any “cans of worms” that may be better left unopened?

 7. Oh yeah! Satisfaction! Make comments on the paper too

q       Does the conclusion give the reader something extra?

q       Does the conclusion help the reader appreciate the topic in a personally relevant way?

q       Does the conclusion leave you (the reader) feeling satisfied?

 8. Overused = unoriginal = usually ineffective! Make comments on the paper too

Does the conclusion use one of these overused and unoriginal conclusions?

q       The “That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It” Conclusion

q       The “Sherlock Holmes” Conclusion

q       The “America the Beautiful” / “I am Woman” / “We Shall Overcome” Conclusion

q       The Grab Bag Conclusion

 9. Comment directly on the paper regarding the wording of any sentences in the conclusion.

 10. Make suggestions on paper for how the conclusion could be reworded, rearranged, made more interesting, or generally improved.



Ramona Ilea, November 2008. Creative Commons Attribution/Share alike license: