Peer review has become a popular approach to building better writing at the college level. I have to be honest - I've rarely seen students look forward to it.
When you start assigning pairs and explaining how they should review each other's work? Most students get a grim, fixed look on their faces, like they knew they were going to have to amputate their own right arms to get out from the glacier that's fallen and trapped them and is slowly freezing them to death…
They read their peer's paper, grimacing all the while. When they're done reading, nine times out of ten, they'll look thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment, rolling a pen between their fingers, then scribble down something like:
"[So and so] did a very good job. I understood the argument and the paragraphs were organized well. I can't think of a way to improve this paper! Maybe a more interesting title? : )"
As soon as they get their own paper back, they'll flip immediately to the last page, look at the very bottom, and find something just like the above written there.
Then we all go home.
What few people realize is that the most effective part of the peer review process tends to be the commenting, not the comments one receives. By looking at how a colleague is dealing with things like organization, logical flow, transition, etc., it can help you get a better handle on those things in your own work.
But the problem is - you can't go giving all sorts of in-depth remarks to a peer, knowing that they'll probably deliver the two line kind of thing above! It would be rude!
So if you want to make the most of peer work, here's a thought: just as you're swapping papers, say: "Please really go to town on this, ok?! Like - anything that crosses your mind, go ahead and put it down! Why not?"
Then sit down and look your peer's work over start to finish. Think of it like a great big puzzle, or a house that needs a few targeted repairs before it can be put up for sale - and jot down every useful strategy you can think of to really help make that essay sing.