Instructional Strategies

Peer Editing and Writing as Process

Until the late 1960's and early 70's, teachers and consequently students were commonly taught about the tools of the craft of writing -- grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and handwriting -- but not about the craft itself.


In truth, however informal it may be, writers use a process that typically includes these stages: prewriting and planning, writing a first draft, responding and revising, editing and proofreading, and writing a final draft.


Looking Back to 1980 is one of several lessons in this curriculum which offer opportunity to use the peer-editing process.




In "Balance the Basics: Let Them Write," a 1980 Report to the Ford Foundation, Donald H. Graves offers the following arguments for the importance of writing as a learning tool.


  1. Writing contributes to intelligence by requiring analysis and synthesis of information.
  2. Writing develops initiative, by requiring that the student supply everything him/herself.
  3. Writing develops courage, by requiring that the student give up anonymity.
  4. Writing increases the student's personal knowledge and self- esteem.
  5. Writing encourages learning in all subject areas, by employing auditory, visual, and kinesthetic systems all at once.
  6. Writing contributes significantly to improvement in reading skills.
Advantages of group collaboration in the writing process include the reduction of writing anxiety, overcoming some of the difficulties students encounter in "getting started," emphasizing the importance of addressing a particular audience, focusing on "getting it right" through multiple revisions and drafts, and establishing a norm of critical self-evaluation.


The Stages:


Writing activities are an important feature of A Living Laboratory, with special attention given to small-group collaboration in the prewriting, responding and revising, editing and proofreading stages. Attention to the following steps may help you effectively use writing as a teaching tool, whatever your content specialty may be.
  1. Prewriting (Preparing to write)
    • Read, think, free-write in a journal format
    • Identify purpose and audience
    • Research, take notes, gather information
    • Brainstorm with a peer group (See Clustering/Mindmaping)
    • Organize thinking and plan


  2. Drafting (Putting thoughts on paper)
    • Focus on content (quantity and quality to be considered later)
    • Compose freely, without concern for mechanics


  3. Revising (Taking another look)
    • Maintain focus on content vs. mechanics
    • Share draft with peer group
    • Invite discussion, accept response and helpful input from peers
    • Add to, delete from, rearrange and revise first draft


  4. Editing/Proofreading
    • Share revised draft with peer group
    • Invite correction of grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage
    • Incorporate corrections in final draft


  5. Publication (The final draft)
    • Share the product with peer group (dramatizations, small group reports, individual oral presentations, etc.)
    • Invite evaluation by peer group
    • Submit for final evaluation by teacher


The Magic of Metaphor

Metaphor is used extensively in A Living Laboratory: Volcanoes to "stretch" students' thinking skills, to enhance the learning process by creating vivid imagery that establishes powerful connections between the concept and the student's prior learnings and personal experiences.


The use of metaphor as a teaching tool has a long history. As teachers, we use metaphor regularly (often unconsciously) to explain ideas, insights, and abstractions. Metaphorical thinking is the ability to make connections between two unlike things, by recognizing an inherent similarity or a common trait.


For example, in Teaching to the Two-Sided Mind, Linda Williams likens the right hemisphere of the brain to a kaleidoscope. This single image serves to illustrate the critical attributes of the right hemisphere; i.e., simultaneous, nonlinear processing that creates meaningful patterns out of unconnected bits and pieces of information.


Williams then compares the left-brain hemisphere to a digital computer, representing the linear and sequential processing skills identified with this portion of the brain.

Metaphor is an excellent technique for introducing unfamiliar material. It is a proven aid to retention and recall. Through the use of metaphor, students are able to connect new information with something they already know or have experienced, attaching it to existing "schema" in the mind.


The second essential step in this learning process is what Gordon and Poze, The Metaphorical Way of Knowing, call "making the familiar strange." This is where students break known connections in order to discover something new about what was previously learned. "Breaking connections" to form new metaphors is an effective way to move from recall to the higher-order levels of cognitive activity: synthesis, integration, and evaluation of the learning.


Metaphors also may be used to evaluate students' ability to comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. Williams suggests using metaphors in test questions. She offers as an illustration this question used to evaluate students' understanding of the French Revolution: "How was the period leading up to the French Revolution like the building up of a thunderstorm? Be sure to include in your analogy the major events that led to the revolution." Following a question posed in terms of a metaphor, students are asked here to demonstrate their understanding of a concept by creating metaphors of their own.


When planning a lesson around a metaphor, the following steps are necessary:


  1. Decide what is the general principal or concept underlying what you are teaching.


  2. Brainstorm possible metaphors, and select the one which best communicates the concept. Make sure the metaphor is one to which your students can relate.


  3. Once you have identified the metaphor, consider its possible discrepancies (the ways in which it does not fit the concept), so that you can note and/or clarify those discrepancies as you introduce it to your students.


  4. Introduce the new lesson or information using the metaphor you have selected. At the conclusion of the lesson/activity/unit, allow time for students to generate new, original metaphors that also communicate the concept learned.

The lessons Vulcan's Vocabulary and A Place in Time illustrate the use of metaphor.


Another way to use metaphor in the classroom is to approach it integratively or thematically. The following steps are suggested by Donald and Judith Sanders in Learning, February 1987:


  1. Establish a specific objective for the lesson and the broad concept to which you will relate it.


  2. Choose an appropriate metaphor that illustrates the concept.


  3. Write a guided fantasy or plan an activity that actively involves your students with the metaphorical image.


  4. Introduce the lesson using the metaphor you have chosen.


  5. Read your guided fantasy or engage students in the activity that allows them to "experience" the metaphor in their imaginations.


  6. Ask students questions about the experience (What did it feel like? What did it look like? What feelings did you have? What new ideas/realizations occurred to you?)


  7. Tie the metaphorical image to your original lesson goal, such that students "get the connection": the "A-HA!" moment of creative recognition or insight.


Guided fantasy or imagery techniques promote both visualization and relaxation, encouraging students to open "the mind's eye" to an experience as it is described to them. It is a means of integrating the rational with the creative mind, freeing the listener from some of the emotional barriers to learning. It has been shown to be particularly effective in cases of undue stress, a history of repeated failure, compulsive perfectionism, and other sources of blocking and anxiety. It is even credited by some with inhibiting acting-out behaviors and increasing motivation. 


Like other forms of imagery, guided fantasy helps to make the abstract familiar, and aids learning and retention by establishing memorable mental connections. (For an example of this method, see lesson Evacuation Simulation. This lesson to be on line in the future.)


Memory Aids


Learners must often remember unfamiliar words and lists of words that are not related to their daily lives. Some "tricks" can be used to aid our memory. These are called mnemonic devices. If you aren't already using them, try some of the mnemonic devices below to help you remember vocabulary and lists in A Living Laboratory: Volcanoes.


  1. Give it a name: "Caldera Rivera," "Basalt Rathbone," Ashley Ashfall," etc.


  2. Use a simile: "A caldera is like a witches cauldron." "Basalt flows like ice cream from a volcanic cone." "It looks like . . . . . .," "It sounds like . . . . . ," etc.


  3. Use a metaphor that creates a mental picture: "The witch, Caldera Rivera, stirs a bubbling cauldron of magma."


  4. Draw a picture to represent it.


  5. Pair it with a familiar word that rhymes: "You can't throw a discus that's viscous"


  6. Create a nonsense acronym:


"The debris avalanche at Mount St. Helens was composed of SWIRT."

Cooperative Learning

    We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards--gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys--in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.

    --John Holt


Learning can be structured competitively, so that students work against each other; individually, so that students work alone; or cooperatively, so that students work together to accomplish shared learning goals. David W. and Roger R. Johnson, professors, and co-directors of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, recommend that, while all three structures should be used, cooperation should play the dominant role in any classroom.


Why? Over 122 studies conducted between 1924 and 1981 provide clear evidence that cooperative learning experiences promote higher achievement than their competitive or individualistic counterparts. Cooperative activities also tend to promote the development of higher-order levels of thinking, essential communication skills, improved motivation, positive self-esteem, social awareness, and tolerance for individual differences.



Specifically, recent research links regular cooperative experience in the classroom with gains in the following areas:



  • Student achievement
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Positive attitudes toward subject and school
  • Group interaction and social skills
  • Self-esteem and mutual respect


In order for cooperative activities to be successful, teachers need to give attention to the following key elements:


    1. Teamwork
    2. Support, and acceptance of differences
    3. Active/reflective listening
    4. Positive feedback
    5. Reaching consensus
    6. Coaching and tutoring others
  2. A. Group Size/Composition -- Johnson and Johnson report the highest levels of success occur when groups are kept small. In fact, they favor groups of two (dyads) for many cooperative tasks, with the number of group members increasing in proportion to the complexity of the task. Teachers introducing cooperative learning for the first time might let students select their own groups. But once comfort is established, the greatest potential for benefit occurs in heterogeneous groupings, with the teacher assuring a balanced mix of ethnic groups, females/males, handicapped with non-handicapped students, and students of low-to-high ability and productivity.

    B. Group Functions -- Students may work in groups on any of the assignments they would ordinarily do alone. They may meet to collaborate on solving a problem, to discuss an issue without direct leading by the teacher, to brainstorm for new ideas or summarize what they have learned about ideas previously presented, to formulate concepts out of information and facts they have been given. Particularly valuable is the potential of a group to share the parts of a complex project or jointly produce an assigned product. Goals for the group might range from practice in group communication processes to preparation for a presentation to the whole class group.

    C. Group Norms -- Teachers need to proceed slowly and with patience to introduce students to cooperative learning. It is not enough to rearrange the seating. A "culture" of group work needs to be developed that includes expectations regarding noise level, an atmosphere of trust, absence of "put-downs," equal participation, and willingness to help one another. The use of group grades is controversial, but Johnson and Johnson report good results from encouraging "we sink or swim together" mindsets. It is important that students learn to coach and teach each other. Brighter students' learning is enhanced by their efforts to teach the others; less-capable students benefit from increased one-to-one attention.

    D. Group Skills -- Students need to be taught procedures and given practice opportunities for rearranging the classroom space, moving quietly into groups, responding to teachers' signals for attention, etc. So, too, it is important for them to receive explicit instruction and regular practice in the interpersonal skills that this method, as well as life in a democratic society, requires. These include:


    E. Group Goals and Roles -- Clear instructions, goals, and time lines for group activities are essential to successful cooperative learning. It is also important that each member have a specific function within the group: recorder, reporter, monitor, observer, facilitator, etc. Roles should be changed frequently, so that members have opportunity to practice new roles, and should be designed to fit the group's particular task.


Activities in A Living Laboratory: Volcanoes may be used to introduce your students to cooperative learning, or fit well into an existing cooperative program.


One such activity is "Jigsaw" (Aronson, 1978) a cooperative learning process for students from kindergarten through graduate school. Students are assigned to small heterogeneous teams, and the task to be learned and materials are divided into as many sections as there are members on each team. For example, a biography might be broken into "early years," "schooling," "first accomplishments," and so on. A study of plants might be divided into "food sources," "chemical manufacturing," etc. A study of a country might be segmented into geography, culture, industry, transportation, and government.


First, members of the different teams who have the same section form "expert" groups and study together. Each then returns to his or her team and teaches that section to his or her teammates. Jigsaw requires that students depend on and learn from one another. (See among other lessons Eruption Simulation, and Life on a Fiery Planet for adaptations of this technique. These lessons to be on line in the future.)

Cooperative Learning References


Aaronson, E., The Jigsaw Classroom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1978)

Devries, D. L., "Teams-Games-Tournaments: Review of Ten Classroom Experiences," Journal of Research and Development in Education 12:28-38, 1978

Dishon, D. and O'Leary, P.W., A Guidebook for Cooperative Learning (Portage, MI: Cooperation Unlimited, 1984)

Johnson, D. W. et. al., Circles of Learning (Washington, D.C., ASCD, 1985)

Kagan, S., Cooperative Learning: Resources for Teachers (Riverside, CA: University of California, 1985)

Kohn, A., "It's Hard to Get Left Out of a Pair," Psychology Today, October, 1987 (on work of Johnson and Johnson)

McKisson, M. and Wasley, P., "China Connections: A Computer Simulation Game," 1987

Sharan, S., and Sharan, Y., Small-Group Teaching (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1976)

Slavin, R. E., "Learning Together: Cooperative Groups and Peer Tutoring Produce Significant Academic Gains," American Educator, Summer 1986, pp. 6-13

Slavin, R. E., "Student Teams and Achievement Divisions (STAD,) Journal of Research and Development in Education 12:39-49, 1978

Slavin, R. E. Using Student Team Learning (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Learning Project, 1980)

Clustering/Mindmapping Techniques

Highly visual or tactile-kinesthetic learners typically have difficulty with lectures, and may avoid them altogether. Such avoidance or aversive behavior can create deficits that seriously hamper learning in traditional educational settings.


These learners can be assisted to make good use of the lecture method. They may be taught to apply to their note-taking the techniques of "clustering," developed by Gabriel Rico, and mind-mapping, created by Tony Buzan. Like brain-storming and often used with it, these techniques employ free-association of ideas, creating a "structure" quite unlike the traditional outline method, but equally effective. They represent one way that visual and tactile-kinesthetic learners may adapt their learning needs to fit the given situation.


These strategies are useful not only for organizing information, but for generating ideas. They are used to create patterns, build connections, and establish associations between the student's own experience and new information, between known facts and new concepts, between parts of a concept or problem and its whole.


Random, non-sequential, and non-linear methods like these are ideal for the visual, tactile-kinesthetic, Type 1 and Type 4 learners. Furthermore, by utilizing skills inherent to both sides of the brain, they become very valuable techniques for the more sequential learner to employ. Finally, they are compatible with "schema" theories of cognitive processing advanced by Costa, Ausubel, Neisser and others.


In both techniques, the learner begins with a center or nucleus. The general idea of the lecture, book, or movie, the topic for creative writing, or the central issue in a problem-solving exercise, is placed in the center of the page. Main ideas are connected to the central topic by drawing lines from the center. Supporting ideas become "branches" off main ideas. Working outward from the center in all directions, the learner produces a growing, organized structure composed of key words, phrases, and images.


Mindmaps are useful for chapter reviews, test preparation, planning, organizing, report-writing, note-taking, and generating ideas for creative writing or research. They are an invaluable technique for introducing a new lesson geared to Quadrant 1 of the 4MAT cycle (See also Learning Styles and the 4MAT System.)


In this curriculum, for example, students being introduced to study of Mount St. Helens are asked to mind-map everything they already know about the volcano. (See Eruption Simulation.) The map becomes a graphic representation of the knowledge level of the students, allowing the teacher to easily identify the gaps in their information. From this visual display, students can draw conclusions and pose questions for further exploration. The process serves as both a motivational technique and as a way of establishing the students' baseline knowledge. Instruction can be modified and adapted, made more basic or more elaborate, based on this information about students' level of readiness.


In A LIVING LABORATORY: VOLCANOES, mindmaps are also used to review information or synthesize new learning. It is helpful and enjoyable to create color mindmaps. We tend to remember better when ideas are presented in color, and the use of colored chalk to highlight main ideas in a lecture has been shown to enhance learning.




Finally, clustering is an especially effective tool for the prewriting stage of the writing process (See Peer Editing.) The following, excerpted and adapted from Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico, may help you introduce clustering to students.


What is it?

Clustering is a generative, open-ended, non-linear, visual structuring of ideas, events, feelings. It is a way of mapping an interior landscape as it begins to emerge.


What is it based on?

It is based on a beginning knowledge of how the two sides of our brain process what we know. They process information in radically different ways. This difference is most easily explained by a look at two words often thought to be a synonymous: order and structure.


Order, on the one hand, comes from the Latin ordo, ordini. It means "in a straight row," "in a regular series." Order implies linear, rule-governed activity. Order is imposed from without. Structure, on the other hand, comes from the Latin struere. It means "to heap together." Structure emerges from within.


What will clustering do?

  • Clustering should help you find and generate ideas and, having found them, to structure and restructure them long before any ordering actually takes place.
  • Clustering is a technique for collecting thoughts around some stimulus, for finding a focus, and for allowing a sense of the whole configuration to emerge even though all the details are not yet apparent.
  • Clustering is a technique for engaging and utilizing the raw materials of one's experience and giving them a tentative shape. In short, it is a discovery process.


How does clustering work?

For brief journal entries, clustering is a simple process taking thirty seconds to two minutes, just long enough to let ideas spill out onto a page until an idea presents itself that you can develop into a whole.



Buzan, Tony, Use Both Sides of Your Brain (New York: Dutton, 1974.) Costa, Arthur, Developing Minds (ASCD, 1985)

Rico, Gabriele, Writing the Natural Way (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 1983.)