Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for English Language Learners

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

One of the great advantages ELLs (English language learners) have is the ability to seek out a classmate for help. In this lesson, teachers will learn about peer-assisted learning strategies specially designed for use in an ELL classroom.

Should Peers Assist?

Before we answer that question, let's define peer-assisted learning. Basically, peer-assisted learning involves a teacher partnering classmates together to complete academic tasks for the benefit of both parties. Peer-assistance is an important part of most classrooms and is especially beneficial for ELLs for a number of reasons.

  • Confused or lost students can turn to a classmate who does understand and speaks their native tongue.
  • Students who absorb material quickly can help students who are having difficulty.
  • A classmate may be able to explain the teacher's words in a way that is more understandable.

Another huge advantage of this approach is that students can share their strengths and bolster their weaknesses. For example, one student may be great at English but poor at math while another is good at math but struggles with English. It's this type of pairing that you want to look for when assigning partners to undertake the strategies suggested in this lesson.

Peer-assisted doesn't mean that the smart kids tutor the stragglers; it means that each student in the pairing offers something useful. While it may not always be a 50/50 collaboration, each student should be able to contribute something of value. Also, don't forget to change the pairings regularly so that students are interacting and communicating with different classmates.

Read and Explain

ELLs typically divide their language ability into four areas: speaking, reading, writing and listening. This peer-assisted strategy focuses primarily on reading, but also incorporates speaking and listening and should be used with pairs in which one student is a confident reader and the other is not.

  1. Both students read the same passage.
  2. The weaker reader orally summarizes the passage to the stronger reader.
  3. The stronger reader listens carefully and then offers feedback.

Peer Grading

When students grade each other's work, they gain the ability to comprehend new insights and perspectives that come from someone in a position of equality rather than authority. This strategy works best with non-English language subjects, such as math or the sciences, in which there is only one correct answer to number- or equation-based problems.

In this situation, it's best to pair strong math and science students with more language- and arts-minded learners.

  1. Give each student in the pair the same math or science related worksheet and have them complete the worksheets separately.
  2. After the worksheets are completed, each pair should compare answers and explanations.

Peer-Reviewed Writing

Peer reviewed writing is a strategy that supplements your own assessment of a writing assignment in a way that can grant great insight into the minds of your ELLs.

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