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Research Spotlight on Peer Tutoring

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

Peer tutoring is a term that’s been used to describe a wide array of tutoring arrangements, but most of the research on its success refers to students working in pairs to help one another learn material or practice an academic task. Peer tutoring works best when students of different ability levels work together (Kunsch, Jitendra, & Sood, 2007).

During a peer tutoring assignment it is common for the teacher to have students switch roles partway through so that the tutor becomes the one being tutored. Since explaining a concept to another helps extend one’s own learning, this practice gives students the opportunity to understand better the material being studied.

What does the research say about peer tutoring? In reviews of peer tutoring programs, researchers found:

  • When students participated in the role of reading tutor, improvements in reading achievement occurred
  • When tutors were explicitly trained in the tutoring process, they were far more effective and the students they were tutoring experienced significant gains in achievement
  • Most of the students benefited from peer tutoring in some way, but same-age tutors were as effective as cross-age tutors (Burnish, Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005; Topping, 2008) 

Some benefits of peer tutoring for students include higher academic achievement, improved relationships with peers, improved personal and social development as well as increased motivation. In turn, the teacher benefits from this model of instruction by an increased opportunity to individualize instruction, increased facilitation of inclusion/mainstreaming, and opportunities to reduce inappropriate behaviors (Topping, 2008).

There is an old saying: “To teach is to learn twice.”  Peer tutoring is a beneficial way for students to learn from each other in the classroom. While one student may excel in math, another student may be top-notch in English. These two students can work together to help each other understand difficult concepts, while deepening their own knowledge of the subject.


Kunsch, C., Jitendra, A., & Sood, S. (2007). The effects of peer-mediated instruction in mathematics for students with learning problems: A research synthesis. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 22(1), 1-12.

Burnish, Fuchs & Fuchs (2005). Peer-assisted learning strategies: An evidence-based practice to promote reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 15(2), 85-91.

Topping, K (2008). Peer-assisted learning: A practical guide for teachers. Newton, Mass.: Brookline Books.

Related Research

Cardenas, J. A., Harris, R., del Refugio Robledo, M., and Supik, J. D.
Valued Youth Program Dropout Prevention Strategies for At-Risk Students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, Chicago, Ill., April 2003.

This paper describes the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, in which limited-English-proficient, middle school children at risk of dropping out became paid cross-age tutors of elementary students. Presents findings that tutors were more likely than controls to stay in school and to have improved reading grades, increased self-esteem, and improved attitudes toward school.

Gartner, A., and Riessman, F. "Tutoring Helps Those Who Give, Those Who Receive." Educational Leadership 52/3 (1994): 58-60.

This article describes a study funded by the Kellogg Foundation in which six New York high schools were test sites for Reciprocal Tutoring. It describes Reciprocal Tutoring, which may be either cross-age or within-grade (with roles of tutor and tutee alternated).


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