By and About Kids

Stories about peer teaching by K-12 students - contributed by their teachers...

Share your stories about your students' peer teaching. Aim for 250 words or less for each story, please.

Lake View Elementary PE Students Get More Engaged and Help Younger Kids

From: James Kersten

MADISON, Wisconsin - I have double gym classes one day a week meaning I have 2 classes in one gym at the same time.  I worked out my schedule so I could have 5th and K together as well as 4th and 1st grade together at the same time.   I teach my older students how to do an activity and they in turn teach the younger students later on in the week how to do the same activity.  It has greatly improved my students' behavior, investment into what they are learning and understanding of activities.  They now know they will be teaching it to their younger student "partner" so they pay much more attention in class and really have seemed to embrace the peer teaching / mentoring aspect I am trying to instill in them.

North Park Middle School Students Make It Big At Home And In The Big Apple

PICO RIVERA, California - Some of the world's most renowned musicians have played New York City's historic Carnegie Hall. In April, music students from North Park Middle School are helping disadvantaged children from the L.A. area get their time in the spotlight.

In a program developed by North Park music director Ron Wakefield, seventh- and eighth-graders from the North Park band teach music to abused and neglected children from various facilities throughout the area. It will be North Park's fourth Carnegie Hall appearance, Wakefield said, but a first for their companions.

We visited with Ron and three of his amazing students in their school--a truly inspiring story.

Widening Our Lenses Outside Of School

 From: Sara Fabick

I would like to relate a peer teaching experience that I observed at the Festival of Nations in St. Louis' Tower Grove Park on Sunday.

I was assisting at the Saint Louis Symphony booth with a volunteer committee called Instrument Playground. This committee has kits of donated musical instruments that they take to selected Adopt-a-School locations and also to other special events like the Festival of Nations, so that children (and frequently adults, too) can experience playing various music instruments first hand.

A young boy about age 8 picked up our small violin and began playing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." People on the path stopped dead still to listen to him play. He produced a beautiful tone out of small sized student violin. He was one of the most confident young students I have ever seen.

The next thing I noticed was that our young violinist immediately turned to the children in line behind him and became their instructor. At first our committee chair wasgoing to step in and take over the violin away from the child, but she quickly saw that the young child was the perfect size to work with young studentsand knew exactly what to tell the novices. Soon a small crowd gathered around him.

There was no caretaker in sight for this child. I approached an older lady to see if she was with the child, and she said, "No!, But I am standing here watching him because I have never seen anything so amazing." She could also see instantly that the child had become the teacher.

I am always inspired after a Partnership Meeting or Hoenny Center Board meeting to be alert for peer teaching. This experience was one of the best I have seen. The youngster was not showing off in any way. He was sincerely wanting to share his knowledge with other youngsters who cared about the violin.

One more story not exactly related to peer teaching . A blind girl (about age 13) approached our table with her mother. I gave her mallets to play the glockenspiel. I was showing her how to get a clear tone on the bells by letting the mallet bounce. I moved her hands through "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She continued to play around a bit by exploring the bars and suddenly started calling out all of the notes on the instrument. She had perfect pitch and knew which note she was playing anywhere - sharps and flats included at random. So much for "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Soon she was picking out a piece she was learning in choir.

I asked her when she learned she could do this, and she responded that she had a natural gift, but it was her kindergarten teacher who recognized it. She was a totally confident young woman and had the words to describe her talent.

I believe that I was her student. I believe I had underestimated this young woman's abilities. There is a time for instruction and a time for discovery, but I was surprised to find out that I had become the student.

Kyle Teaches Grandma About Stacking In Math

From: Sara Fabick, former elementary school teaching, Lindbergh (MO) Schools

Recently my friend Pat and I were under marching orders to see that her grandson began his homework before MOM got home from work. She was concerned that Kyle did not know how to do stacking in Division. Of course, Pat and I had no idea what "stacking" meant, so we asked him to teach us how to stack.

"Well, first of all," he said, "it is used in multiplication not division."

Next Kyle quickly showed us exactly how to do the multiplication problem using stacking. The digits are multiplied separatedly, but in a problem such as a 39 x 42 when multipling the 4 x 3 the student has to write 1200. 4 x 9 become 40 x 9, and the student writes 360. The numbers are stacked up and added together at the end, but the place value of the numbers becomes very clear instead of a rote method.

We deemed him brilliant. His MOM feels better, too.

An example of the young teaching the MATURE as opposed to peer teaching. What fun!

Musically Gifted Autistic Student Helps Peers

From: Barbara White, elementary music teacher in Sweet Home, NY

I am now in an elementary school that has an unusual number of autistic children. One of them has a musical ability that is remarkable. He will come up to the piano, watch me play something and then play it. It might take two tries but it is accurate - melodically and rhythmically. He plays the recorder after hearing me demonstrate a piece one or two times. The other day I played a rhythmic ostinato on a tambourine for a student that has been playing piano for several years and is quite good. She was having trouble so he got up, got a tambourine, and proceeded to teach it to her.

Building The Profession, One By One

From: Scott Hagin, AP Calculus class of 2005 at Edwardsville, IL, High School

I received an email yesterday from a former Calculus student -- one of the "victims" of my Calculus review project [in which each student prepared a topic on the AP Calculus exam and taught it to the class]. She was looking for a copy of the document that compiled all student reviews in that project. Her words included very positive feedback that I share below.

" ... I don't know if you remember, but when we did that final project where we had to teach a topic to the rest of the class you told me that I should become a teacher. Well at that time I decided I was going to major in Community Health Education ...  After a year of that, I realized that wasn't for me. I switched to Spanish Education, but after only a semester of that I changed my mind again. From there, I transferred ... and decided to do Elementary Education. My specialization is Math..."

Pass It Along

From: Sr. Ginny Flowers, Immacolata Elementary School, St. Louis, MO

Today I watched one of my students helping another student learn a concept of adding double digits. It was priceless, for the one student insisted that she just can't get it when suddenly the light went on! Then, on her own, she turned to another student who was getting so frustrated and explained to him how to do it, whereas it finally made sense to him! She could use similar, if not the same, words and explanation as I did but there was something else, you know?

About My Classes

From: Jerri Davenport, Principia Upper School, St. Louis, MO

What teaching abilities stand out in your students as you notice them helping each other learn?

The students who are effective as peer coaches are willing to listen and are patient about allowing their tutoree to learn at his or her own pace. They are not always jumping in with the answer, they are willing to encourage the tutoree to think for him- or herself.

Describe some students who are most effective when they help peers learn something. Be as brief or as detailed as your time allows.

I have appreciated students who use multiple strategies to help their friends learn. If one way of explaining the idea doesn't work, they try a different approach. They often will build bridges too by saying things like, "Yes, I know the first time I heard it I didn't get it either so I thought about it this way ... [or] I asked this question ... [or] remember how Mrs. Davenport suggested we ..." Because the student who is doing the coaching was in the class when the material was presented, it allows him or her to refer back to experiences they both had. It also allows the coach to draw on points that the student being helped heard but couldn't relate to at the time. This magnifies the learning opportunities.

What general and/or specific strategies do you use to empower your students to help each other learn?

I often will ask students to help me explain a point if I feel as though the class is not fully understanding what I am saying. I also ask students to share what they know about a topic if it's something I don't have a lot of background in -- or even if I do. Students hear things differently from each other than they do from an adult. I capitalize on that as often as I can. I have several students who are very strong on grammar, and some are very weak. I often let the students use each other as resources, especially if I am working with other students at the time.

The Culture-Bearers Of North Elementary School

From: Mary Kathryn Welch, Monongalia County Schools, Morgantown, WV

Twenty seven different languages are represented among 96 ESL families in our school. A fourth grader from India was typical of ones who taught us songs, in this case a lullaby "Chunda Mama." When she visited a fourth grade class to sing the song and discuss its translation with the students, she had their complete attention. She also supplied information about the part of India from which she came. Then, with some help and practice, the class learned the song and accompanied it with classroom instruments. Six other ESL students from Belgium, China, Dominica, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan contributed songs from their countries as well. This was very exciting for both the ESL students and the classes. We all learned a lot and the other students got better acquainted with the ESL students, too.

The Self-Starting Middle School Band

From: Mark Flynn, Akron, NY

In the fall of 2004, I was finishing up a project in my office as my 110-student middle school band, grades 6-8, came into our cramped quarters for rehearsal. Because space is so tight, the kids are instructed to leave their book bags in the hall.

The fire alarm rang just as the students sat down ready for class. The students left their instruments and immediately exited to the outdoors. At the conclusion of the drill and on the way to the band room my principal asked about the piles of book bags, and I explained that leaving them in the hall was the only way the students had enough space to properly prepare for the rehearsal. As we were discussing this outside in the hall, the volume of sound coming from the room increased to a deafening level. It was obvious to me that the students were individually warming up as they'd learned to do but with a bit more enthusiasm than usual. Our conversation became elvevated so we could hear each other.

Suddenly, there was silence from the band room. The principal looked at me, worried. Then we heard an organized, controlled warmup routine begin with scale exercises we did every day. "What teacher is in the room?" she asked. "None," I said. At that, the principal rushed into the room to find the band playing without a director. The principal went to the front of the room and stopped the group. She asked the students, "How did you do that?" One said, pointing to two percussion students, "They started us." "Well!" said the principal, "I want your names because I want to tell everyone over the intercom tomorrow about how you took responsibility. Congratulations!" [I was pleased with her recognition of the advanced capabilities of the kids, but I feel she may have missed the point by just rewarding the two students: Any of the students could have started the group. The response of the 108 other students for a shared purpose to start the rehearsal was the impressive part, especially at the middle school level. On this day each student in the band received a peer-based positive lesson in leadership.]

Eight Great Stories

From: Cindy Richards, Rochester, NY

1) Lucia hailed from Latin America and was particularly gifted at explaining concepts to her peers. I had the privilege of overhearing several of her tutoring sessions the weeks prior to Regents exams, state exams given in New York. Although English was not her primary language, her explanations were accurate and concise. The two gals she helped both scored in the 90s on the exam after getting Bs and Cs all year. Alas, Lucia got a 77, as the nuances of the English language tripped her up on several occasions. Grading her exam was a lesson in frustration for me as I had heard her explain the concept to others and knew she had a far better understanding than they. The age-old question--are grades necessarily a good reflection of comprehension!?

2) At an alternative high school for outcasts from the regular system, I found myself teaching earth science, a subject for which I am not certified. As is the case, one often does not stumble on the best approach to a concept the first time teaching it. On this particular day, I found myself doubting my sanity and my choice to accept the position in the alternative high school. The students were pulling every trick in the books and even adding some; to put it bluntly, their behavior was atrocious! I dealt with the abuse calmly, and after about twenty minutes, the ringleader said, "Call it off, she is not going to blow." Yes, it had been a student-administered test, and I had passed. The next day I was having difficulty getting a particular concept across to them when the ringleader from the previous day put his hand up. "Mrs. R, I have taken earth science three times and have a cool way to explain it."

I sat down and let Don teach the class for the next five minutes. After taking some razzing from his peers, he did an awesome job! And yes, his peers listened and learned.

3) Greta was a foreign exchange student in my freshman biology class. She was paired with a rambunctious, impulsive, hyperactive, but inherently kind young man as her lab partner due to the luck of the draw. At first, I must admit I considered making a switch, but I then opted not to make the change. In fact, they were allowed to be lab partners the majority of the year. Why? I had had a chance to overhear several of their exchanges. Mike showed extraordinary patience with Greta when he was helping her.

Having to explain the procedure to her slowed him down and made him think about the experiment. And guess what? I heard Greta correcting Mike's grammar on multiple occasions. Both students benefited!

4) My AP biology class was discussing the tragedy of the dramatic loss of rain forests. They were very critical of the governments that allowed such cutting in their country. I was about to present the other side when my exchange student from Ecuador spoke up. She eloquently described the heart wrenching conflict felt by poverty-stricken countries as they try to preserve their resources while trying to get above water economically. She presented the situation with such passion that they learned far more from her than had I presented it.

5) One of my AP students was so shy that it was painful to her and to those who tried to work with her. If asked even a straightforward question, her face reddened and tears would appear. She held all of her teachers at arm's length throughout the year, rejecting all overtures. Fortunately, one of her peers could connect with her. I could see Barbara taking her under her wing and explaining concepts when Dottie was confused and frustrated. She also volunteered to be Dottie's lab partner and guided her through the sometimes-intricate labs. Dottie got a 5 on the AP. I definitely feel that Barbara helped her more than I.

6) Skits are an excellent means of having students teach each other certain topics. Imagine how dreadful and boring it would be to have the teacher stand up and go through the different biogeochemical cycles. Gag me with a spoon! The water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen cycles are covered. The class is divided into three groups with each group randomly drawing one of the three cycles to present. The group that drew the water cycle presented the cycle through an operatic interpretation of it. For transpiration, the young man stood up with the sign "tree" taped to his chest and spread his arms upward to represent branches. He belted out, "I am a tree. I'm losing it. I'm losing it. TRANSPIRATION!" (As he was singing, another student threw blue bits of paper with H2O written on it into the air). No one missed that question on the test!

7) Another good cooperative learning venture is the simulation of the digestive tract. All students randomly draw a part in the presentation. When the student performs the role of the large intestine, there is quite a scene! No one ever forgets that the absorption of water is a major function of large intestine nor do they forget what is left. Some might call it a "crappy" way to present the alimentary canal, but it does its job.

8) Being trained as a microbiologist, I am not particularly enamored with dissections, but it is part of the job. One year I was talking to one of my AP students who had made a remarkable turnaround that year going from a D, in the first trimester, to a B-, in the second, and was near an A in the third. He loved doing dissections and offered to teach the pregnant bovine uterus lab. I opted to give him the opportunity. He really prepared for the presentation of the lab and did an excellent job. He learned the lab far better by presenting it and gained the respect of his peers (plus I did not have to do it). All of us were winners! Since that time, I have always offered the lab to be presented by a student and have always had volunteers. Most of the time, the results are remarkable.

Angela's Fractions Example

From: Amylynne Denk and her student Angela

Eastridge Middle School Special Education, East Irondequoit CSD, Rochester, New York

In my homebase (which is a class designed to give extra support to students in special education), the students were having a great deal of difficulty with math, especially reducing fractions to their lowest point. I was re-teaching this as the teacher had showed them, which required making a factor tree, getting the greatest common factor, then dividing the fraction by that factor. They were lost! Too many steps! Then one of my students explained how she reduced fractions simply by trying to divide numbers into the fraction by trial and error and then keep reducing. It wasn't the most "mathematical" way, but it worked for her and then most of the class understood what they were supposed to be doing. Math seems to be very difficult for my students since the concepts keep building on one another and most have not mastered the previous concepts. Although this student's method may not always give the correct answer, it shows a good thought process and a way that she is making math more understandable for herself, in her terms, and now for many other students!

Ben, The Weight-Lifting Mathematician

From: Scott Hagin - HS Mathematics and Computer Programming, Edwardsville, Illinois

Two of the classes in my load are a senior calculus course and a freshman introduction to algebra course. One of the calculus students (we'll call him Ben) came last week to ask if he could help in some way during fourth period. He's a high-ability student with top grades, and he had a study hall that period he didn't need. I agreed that he could come to the algebra class to help tutor the freshmen as they needed help on their homework, and I made the arrangements with the study hall teacher.

Yesterday, he came to fourth period class out of his Physical Education class where he had been weight lifting. He asked me if the freshman students could handle percentages. "Yes," I said. "What have you got in mind?" "Well," said Ben, "last period I was able to back-squat 290 pounds. I weigh 159 pounds, and I'd like to ask the students what percentage of my body-weight was I able to lift." I agreed to let the students use that as their 'warm-up' problem and put the story problem on the board. The students worked the problem, which allowed a mini-review on how to compute percentages.

I was pleased that Ben was thinking about these students outside of class, and was creating real-world ways to use mathematics at their level.

Seventh Graders Talk About Teaching Their Peers: Kids' motivations for peer teaching

From: Peggy Emling, MS Social Studies, Edwardsville, Illinois

Seventh grade social studies students answered some questions after a learning stations unit. Here are a few of their answers to one of the questions:

Why do you help your classmates?

  • Because they need it and so do I.
  • They helped me.
  • It's nice to give a helping hand.
  • Because if I needed help I would like someone to help me.
  • Everyone needs help. What you don't know somebody else might.
  • I know what it feels like to be clueless.
  • 'Cause they would help me in return.
  • I know how it feels to be left out because you don't understand nothing.
  • Certain people have trouble with certain things and I know I get caught on a question every now and then.
  • It wouldn't be nice if you know the answer and someone's struggling.


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