Group Writing as a Revision Aid


A strategy for improving students’ essay writing technique, through joint planning and shared writing.

One of the most successful techniques that I used last year for helping students prepare for their English Literature exam was one of the most simple. It was:

Reading an exam question together.
– Unpacking the question and identifying the key words.
– Writing a plan together in response to the question.
– Dividing the essay up into paragraphs and distributing these among the class for students to write (depending on the size of the class, I would ask students to write these paragraphs in groups of  no more than 2-4 students).
– Typing the essay up and redistributing to the class.
– Asking students to comment on how the essay works as a whole and what improvements need to be made.
– Assigning the paragraphs to students to re-write and improve (the paragraphs could either be given back to the original students who wrote them or to a new group).
– Finally, typing it up again and making the students assess it and provide feedback on it.

This isn’t a particularly ‘whizzy’ or new idea. However, my students last year said that the three lessons we spent on it were the most useful revision lessons that we had. Their results for that exam certainly bore that out. The strategy works because breaking the essay up into manageable chunks makes it much less intimidating for students, as does asking the students to write the paragraphs in small chunks. I also found that it really helps students to see the purpose of planning- that essential but much maligned technique for a well-structured essay. What makes the real difference is giving the paragraphs back out to students to revise and improve. This enables them to reflect on:

– The structure of the essay as a whole. Do the paragraphs link and build on previous points?
– The structure of the paragraphs themselves. Are the points relevant?  Do they use good examples? Do they follow the Point, Evidence, Analyse format? Do they link the analysis back to the essay question?

After you have tried this approach out with the whole class, you can then set it up as a group activity, with each group potentially working on a different exam question and dividing the paragraphs between individual students in the group. I think this probably has mileage in other subjects, such as History, and I would be interested to hear what other subject teachers think. Helping students to improve their exam writing skills is an essential, if often fraught process. However, I think this method not only does that but also assists students by making them more determined learners, who aren’t afraid to edit, improve and learn from their mistakes.

by Naomi Hursthouse


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