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Peer-Assisted Strategies for Learning Literacy

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll gain an understanding of the techniques known as peer-assisted learning strategies for literacy learning. We'll look at definitions, examples, and benefits of this approach.

Definition of Peer-Assisted Learning

Have you ever collaborated one-on-one with another person and found it helpful? For example, maybe you and your coworkers have helped each other out with computer skills or brainstormed solutions to challenges together. You've probably noticed in these cases that two heads are often better than one!

Peer-assisted learning strategies for literacy are another type of collaboration between two people. Sometimes abbreviated PALS, this term refers to structured reading interactions between two students. One student coaches the student performing the assigned activity, and then the two switch places.

How Peer-Assisted Learning Works

Student pairs are typically assigned by the teacher. Students at different levels in their learning are often paired together on purpose. They follow instructions on how to do each task and coach one another, so that the interaction is productive and supportive.

Typically, students even have an opportunity to receive points on behalf of their team if they work hard and limit their errors. Both peer coaches and teachers can award these points. This provides additional motivation to perform well when working in pairs.

PALs activities were originally designed for younger, newer readers, but are now available for all levels including both elementary and high school grades. These strategies are intended to supplement, not replace, teacher-led instruction in literacy, and teachers need their own training in order to carry out this type of program. The activities can be performed with just about any text that is appropriate for the student's level.

Examples of Peer-Assisted Activities

Here are some examples of peer-assisted learning strategies, sometimes also called peer-assisted literacy strategies. Each of these is done in a two-student pair.

Partner reading: One student reads for a set period of time while a partner coaches the student. When time is up, the readers switch roles, so the other student is now the coach and the partner becomes the reader.

Students are paired together, often mixing readers of different levels in a strategic way.
Two children reading a book.

Paragraph shrinking: A student provides a summary of a section of text in a shortened format, including specifying the main idea. The student may also retell portions in his or her own words, aiming to keep events in the order in which they were read. The student in the role of coach prompts the student for each type of information. Then the students alternate roles and perform the tasks with a different section of text.

Prediction relay: A student in the midst of a text predicts what's going to happen next and then reads that portion to find out if the prediction was correct. The reader then summarizes what was read, and the students can compare the prediction to the text. Students then move on to other material so that the partner can try the same activity.

Impact on Literacy

So, why do this at all? Research suggests that peer-assisted learning offers positive outcomes both in literacy skills as well as other benefits.

Literacy Skills

Research reviewed by the Institute of Education Sciences suggests that peer-assisted strategies offer potential for positive effects in the area of alphabetics. This is the area of reading focusing on letter sounds and blending of letters, as well as recognizing common words.

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