Students helping students in the classroom is so powerful for our classroom communities. This type of peer support is vital in the classroom because it:
- Strengthens our classroom community
- Empowers students to look for help in people other than the teacher
- Encourages students to look out for their peers
A thriving, supportive classroom community doesn’t just appear overnight. To cultivate this environment, we plant the seeds early and nurture this community often. We can intentionally do things that give students the tools and language to support each other. Over time and with lots of trial and error, I’ve found a few strategies that seem to stick each year. Ready to dive in with me?
Knowing Each Other Well
Community Building Activities
Students Helping Students in Morning Meeting
Morning meeting is my favorite part of our day because our morning meeting is a daily opportunity to maintain and strengthen peer connections. Through the components of morning meetings, students:
- feel welcomed into the classroom community
- prepare for the day ahead
- share about themselves
- make positive peer connections
- work together in positive, low-risk ways
These positive peer connections create meaningful moments between peers that might not normally interact much during the school day, which in turn creates a more supportive classroom community.
All About Me Books
“Important Books” or “All About Me” books are another class favorite. This practice started as a way to support the home-to-school transition, but it evolved into so much more.
At the beginning of the year, I send home little photo albums from the dollar store or a little booklet made by stapling together copy paper. Students and caregivers put anything in the book that feels important to that student: photos, drawings, really anything that they can fit on a page. For students that can not complete this at home, I help them draw or print out some of their favorite things to include in the book.
The opportunities for students to REALLY get to know each other build the foundation for students helping students throughout the year.
Students learn so much from observation and example. Much of the language and strategies for students helping students come from us. As teachers, we are the example. Students are always observing and listening; we know this all too well! Many students love their teachers and want to be like their teachers. The language we model and the strategies for supporting others become the language and strategies that students emulate.
The language that we use has a huge impact on our students. Our word choice and tone create a safe, inclusive learning environment for our students. It sets the expectations for the language that we want our students to use with each other. Carefully considering our word choices, being mindful of the tone that we use, and proactively modeling supportive language when working with students will ensure that our students have a strong example to refer to as they navigate making their own choices in supporting peers.
Read Alouds to Support Peer Advocacy
You know I love a great read-aloud! Especially for introducing and discussing tricky topics. Read alouds work well to foster students helping students for a few reasons:
- Students get a clear example of specific behavior with people that aren’t their direct peers
- It removes the emotion from the specific situation that our students are experiencing
- Students can see themselves in the characters
- Reading about a variety of emotional situations helps our students build empathy
- We can discuss strategies through the characters in the book
I’m always on the lookout for books that will address emotional concepts with my students. Over the years, my bookshelf has expanded to include books that highlight a variety of social situations and emotional concepts. The discussions that follow these read alouds give us opportunities to practice language and make connections. As situations arise in the classroom, we can come back to what a character said or a strategy that a character used.
Fostering students helping students is an ongoing practice. It’s not done once we read the book or have a conversation. I’ve definitely done the read-aloud and had the discussion, and then wondered why my students aren’t putting it all into practice right away!
These things are complicated for kids and involve more than just one book or discussion.
We know from teaching academic content that students need to see and hear things multiple times and in a variety of ways. Just like a math concept or learning to read, we can work on these social and emotional concepts in multiple ways.
- Revisit these concepts frequently
- Circle back and help connect the dots for our students
- Provide specific feedback when we see students helping students
- Help our students make the connections from one read-aloud, to another, and then to a real-life application
Our consistency in language and modeling when we support students will reinforce students helping students.
Our end goal is for students to do these things on their own. Implementing these strategies will support students helping students in our classroom. But we need to scaffold this throughout the year and align our expectations accordingly. Our students won’t come to us in September able to do all of these things. However, we can expect that how our students approach supporting peers will evolve and grow from September to June.
Teaching and supporting empathy and emotional skills with our students takes time and scaffolding. We can put strategies in place to scaffold these behaviors and strategies. As we observe students helping students through read alouds, and as our students are more comfortable with our routines, expectations, and language, they will be more able to practice these strategies on their own. Then, we can reinforce these behaviors and strategies in positive ways to help our students internalize these strategies.
Our Marble Jar is one of my favorite ways to reinforce bravery and smart thinking. Often, students end up putting in marble for supporting other students, or from the bravery that has been made possible by a classroom full of supportive peers.
I hope that these strategies give you some ideas for scaffolding your students supporting each other in the classroom. Students helping students is a work in progress. As we nurture these skills in our students, we are supporting our classroom community as a whole. Over time, our students feel the support of their peers and take the initiative to help their peers. The shifts in the classroom community that follow are so powerful. These allow our students to take academic and social risks and grow in so many ways.
As your virtual teammate, I would love to hear about the ways that you foster students helping students in your classroom.