Terms and Descriptions

For a variety of K-12 peer-teaching (PT) approaches, the research suggests that the following ideas will likely increase the academic, social, and attitudinal benefits to kids:

  1. Structure the tasks clearly, emphasizing group outcomes.
  2. For low level tasks assigned to groups, use group rewards and reinforcers as well as individual accountability.
  3. Coach all students in roles, responsibilities, and group skills:
    • How to give good explanations
    • How to ask higher-order questions
    • How to give and receive help productively
    • How to organize the tasks, build the product, and share the results.
  4. Give students practice in helping each other every day.
  5. In general try to use heterogeneous grouping.

See our research summary for more.

Following are some basic descriptions of terms used in our work; they are not technical definitions:

Cooperative learning

A type of classroom strategy where the teacher organizes students to work together in small groups or pairs toward common goals.

Peer Tutoring

Practice of asking one student to help another at the same age or grade level (same-age peer tutoring or SAPT). When the tutor is older and at a higher grade level than tutee, the practice is cross-age peer tutoring or CAPT). Some examples of this are A+ Tutoring in Missouri, Teaching Academy and Cadet Teaching programs in many American high schools.

Informal peer tutoring

“Study-hall” atmosphere in class, where people are encouraged to seek help from each other as needed on a task

General class discussion

Typical of teacher-led discussions and reviews, where students raise hands to answer teacher’s questions and, in the process, teach the rest of the class also

Posting work products

Students are requested (or required) to display work products through a bulletin board posting, demonstration, or performance

Reciprocal peer tutoring

Students are placed in dyads and tutor each other equally, usually following a structured format (Peer editing is a related approach in writing.)

Class-wide peer tutoring (CWPT)

A classroom strategy that assigns “think-pair-share” partners in advance

Learning centers

Spaces in a classroom set up with materials and tasks (Although usually for independent learning, learning centers provide opportunities for a variety of peer teaching approaches, especially CWPT or Informal Peer Tutoring.)

Mixed-ability tutoring (heterogeneous dyads or groupings)

Higher ability students work with lower-ability students, usually of the same age

Literature [or] Book circles

Groups of students discuss pieces of literature they are reading

Student presentations/peer modeling

Students prepare and present information or demonstrate skills to the rest of the class, individually or in small “project teams”

Reciprocal teaching*

A structured approach to improving reading comprehension that involves instruction and practice in strategies such as generating questions, summarizing, and predicting what might happen next in a story or other text. Strategies are taught and modeled by the teacher. The students gradually take over the role of facilitator and provide instructional support to each other. (CRISS*, SRA/Open Court*, and SRA/Reading Mastery* systems are based on similar structured approaches and research findings, but have less emphasis on PT.)

Large group (whole-class) projects

Complex project learning, requiring large numbers of people to contribute individual skills or knowledge simultaneously, often with periodic evaluation and correction of group effort (Examples are house-building projects, team book or web site construction, theatre or video productions, musical ensembles, and team sports.)


*Further information:

CRISS = CReating Independence through Student-owned Strategies

Reciprocal Teaching

SRA/Open Court and SRA/Reading Mastery
Reading Mastery is under “Direct Instruction” on this menu.

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