Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Lesson: Analyzing Peers: Evaluating Write-off Commentary Entries


Analyzing Peers: Evaluating Write-off Commentary Entries


In this lesson, students will use articles written for JEA’s Write-off contest in order to develop standards for high quality commentary writing and practice editing skills.


  • Students will evaluate written entries to the Write-off Commentary Writing contest by considering the effectiveness of the writing.
  • Students will cite evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Students will work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines and establish individual roles as needed.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Handout: Commentary Writing prompt

Set of four stories: Superior, Excellent, Honorable Mention, No Award

Worksheet: Write-off Commentary Writing critique sheets (four per group)

Set of completed critiques: Superior, Excellent, Honorable Mention, No Award

Worksheet: Individual Work: Ranking Stories and Justifying Choices

Worksheet: Group Work: Sharing Ranking and Developing Criteria

Lesson step-by-step

1. Tap prior knowledge — 5 minutes

Begin class with a connecting question or discussion to review students’ main takeaways. This will vary based on whether you have already conducted similar lessons based on evaluating professional or peer work. In today’s lesson, they will focus on work produced by peers under time constraints, evaluating the effectiveness of these stories using own criteria and judges’ criteria. If anyone from the class is familiar with the National High School Journalism Convention, this is an opportunity to share what they know and/or remember about the Write-off contests sponsored by JEA.

In the Commentary Writing category, students read several provided material sources on a contemporary topic and write a story by hand. Students are limited to the sources provided. All Write-off blocks are two hours long (taking place from 4-6 p.m. on Friday at the fall and spring national conventions).

2. Reading and analysis — 30 minutes

First, students will use student writing samples to develop criteria. Individually, students should read the four stories, rank them (1=highest, 4=lowest) and complete Individual Work: Ranking Stories and Justifying Choices. Next, students will work in groups to debate rankings and come to a consensus. Complete Group Work: Sharing Rankings and Developing Criteria. Select a student from each group to share with class. If time permits, create a class list of criteria that can be used as inspiration for a publication-specific rubric or editing guide.

3. Practice and evaluation — 10 minutes

Distribute copies of the blank Write-off critique sheet. (Each group gets four copies.) Students should complete a critique sheet for each story. Now that they have the critique sheet, students should debate their ranking again. Are there any changes they would make? Why/Why not? (If time permits, groups may share with class.)

4. Analysis — 5 minutes

Distribute judges’ comment sheets to groups. Groups should discuss the following: How similar were their rankings to the judges’? (1=Superior, 2=Excellent, 3=Honorable Mention, 4=No Award) How similar were their comments? What do you notice? If time permits, groups can share highlights of this discussion with the class.

Side note on judging: After Write-offs have concluded, judges meet for several hours to read entries, complete scoring sheets and select award-winning entries. No more than 10 percent of entries may earn the highest award, a Superior. JEA offers two other awards: Excellent is the second category; Honorable Mention is the third. Judges come from a variety of backgrounds, such as current and retired advisers, journalism professors and professional journalists. Each entry is read by at least two judges.

How the stories in this lesson were selected: After judging concluded at the 2016 fall convention in Indianapolis, Ind., the JEA Writing Curriculum Leader made copies of one entry from each of the four categories (Superior, Excellent, Honorable Mention and No Award). Due to time constraints, selections were chosen randomly rather than deliberately. (There wasn’t time to collectively consider all Excellents, for example, and choose a representative sample.)

5. Reflection — 5 minutes

To close the lesson students should move out of groups and reflect individually. Responses can be collected as an exit slip. Questions: What have you learned about writing commentary through this lesson? List two goals you have for yourself specific to commentary writing.


Depending on students’ needs, the groups could be heterogeneous, with a variety of skill levels in each group, or organized homogeneously, with students who have a similar skill level grouped together. For example, if it is a mixed-population production course, students new to journalism could be grouped together so they don’t feel tempted to defer to students who have been part of the journalism program for longer.

If students need help focusing, consider assigning roles within the group. For example, one person can record the criteria, a second can present to the class, a third can record additions to criteria based on judges comments and a fourth can present the revisions to the class.

Extension activity

Groups might dispute some of the judges’ decisions. This is an appropriate step in student ownership of writing standards. In addition, inconsistencies in judging are possible due to the time constraints of the contest. If students would like to work toward improving standards on a national scale, they can write letters to the JEA Writing Curriculum Leader. This extension activity can also offer teachers the opportunity to teach a bit about persuasive writing and tone.

Advanced students might also use this opportunity to practice editing the story samples and conduct a role-playing exercise in partners to simulate having a conference with the writer to offer suggestions for revision while providing constructive and specific feedback.

Another option is to pair this with the commentary writing exercise itself. After students have analyzed the samples, they can use the original materials provided (Article 1, 2 and 3) to write their own commentary pieces using the same prompt and scoring themselves or conducting another peer review.