Peer Assisted Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers

Keith Topping

Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books (2000)

Peer Assisted Learning can be defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions. PAL involves people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers helping each other to learn and learning themselves by so doing.

This book is a practical guide for teachers in how to plan and effectively implement different kinds of Peer Assisted Learning in any area of the curriculum - in a way which integrates with and complements direct teaching by professionals. It covers many different kinds of peer tutoring, and also other kinds of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) such as peer modelling, peer monitoring of learning behaviour and peer assessment of learning products. It considers the use of PAL with students of all ages, abilities, and linguistic and cultural backgrounds, organized so that both helper and helped gain in achievement. It is solidly based on decades of research evidence and practical experience. It builds upon Keith Topping's previous (1988) book for Brookline ("The Peer Tutoring Handbook"), but substantially updates and goes far beyond it.

The long history of Peer Assisted Learning and the mass of research evidence on its effectiveness are reviewed, but only briefly, since this is readily available in greater depth elsewhere if required. The advantages and disadvantages of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) are summarized, and the processes through which it has its effects outlined. A typology of different kinds of Peer Assisted Learning then gives teachers a clear framework (or "menu") for choosing the PAL method most appropriate for their needs and context. The core of the book is the extensive guide to planning and implementing the chosen PAL method effectively. This is coupled with a detailed reproducible Planning Format, useful for structuring preliminary thinking and subsequent planning meetings, and for recording organizational decisions. Reproducible information for parents is also included. Ways of evaluating PAL projects within limited time and resources are then reviewed, given the frequent need to demonstrate cost-effectiveness locally. Embedding and extending PAL so it is more than an ephemeral novelty is discussed. Further readings, sources and resources (both paper-based and from the Internet) are recommended.


  1. Introduction
  2. The History of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL)
  3. Research Evidence for Effectiveness
  4. How It Works
  5. Types of Peer Assisted Learning
  6. Planning and Implementing PAL
  7. Structured Planning Format
  8. Evaluating Your PAL Program
  9. Embedding and Extending PAL
  10. Sources and Resources 
    Information for Parents (Reproducible) 

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