Activities to Teach Constructive Criticism

Student speaking with instructor after class.
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Positive and negative criticism can be difficult. Students often struggle to provide specific compliments and, at the same time, they may lack the maturity to give suggestions in a helpful way. Providing structured activities that model these behaviors can make this skill second nature.

1 Compliment Before Critiquing

Everyone is used to the good news-bad news method of relaying information. When teaching students to provide constructive criticism, leading with the good news is always a good idea. For instance, if students are critiquing their classmates' writing through peer revisions, ask them to describe two things they liked about their partner's piece before giving them a suggestion for improvement. When a potentially hard-to-hear piece of advice follows some positive feedback, it's easier to take.

2 Be Specific

Students often get bogged down with multiple pieces of criticism. When teaching students to critique, remind them to limit their comments and keep them specific. For example, if two students are working together on speeches to be given to the class, ask each partner to give only two pieces of advice. Each suggestion should be written out as a single sentence and have a measurable outcome, such as reducing the number of times the speaker says an overused word.

3 Ask Questions to Pinpoint the Problem

Constructive feedback doesn't always have to be in the form of a direct suggestion. Instead, provide students with a survey that helps to self-identify potential problems with behavior or work. For example, if a student is struggling with an argumentative essay, have him answer questions that ask him to explain a complex problem as if he were talking to a younger sibling in elementary school. A student may also be asked to find and circle the thesis statement of her paper or to restate the main idea. If she can't find one, this is a good opportunity for her to realize that she should go back and revise.

4 Use a Script to Stimulate Deep Thinking

Whether it's correcting work or addressing other classroom issues, students may still struggle with constructive criticism despite structured activities. When all else fails, give them sentence templates to help cement the concept. For example, students in an argument might need to be given a note card that says "It hurt my feelings when you ..." with a blank to be filled in depending on the situation. For classwork-related situations, you might have a script that says, "Your essay made me think about ..." Asking students to dig deep to provide specific, individualized feedback will greatly help their peers. As you repeat this activity a few times, the scripts will become less and less necessary.