Peer Tutoring : A Brief Guide for Parents

Children are often excited to be involved in peer tutoring, and talk about it at home. Rather than leave parents to ask questions, schools often inform them before the project starts. A "brief guide" to peer tutoring is given below. This is a reproducible taken from "Peer Assisted Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers" by Keith Topping (Cambridge MA: Brookline Books, 2001).

Peer Tutoring: A Brief Guide

Part of life at school asks children to try to do better than other children. But another very important part of school life is helping other people. Children learn well in both ways.


Peer tutoring means having children help other children to learn. Sometimes older children help younger children, and sometimes more able children help less able children of the same age. The idea is a very old one, first noted hundreds of years ago. In Britain, Bell and Lancaster used peer tutoring a lot about 200 years ago. By 1816, 100,000 children were learning in this way. Peer tutoring then caught on in quite a few parts of the world.

As more and more schools for everyone were set up, paid for out of taxes, peer tutoring was used less and less. Helping children learn was taken over by paid adult teachers. However, in the 1960's it began to be used on a large scale again, especially in the United States. Teachers came to grasp that peer tutoring was a great 'boost' or extra help for all children. Today, peer tutoring is again spreading rapidly in many parts of the world.


Many peer tutor projects focus on reading, the most vital skill of all. But a wide range of other subjects have also been peer tutored, including mathematics, spelling, writing, languages and science. The tutors are not just being 'used', because they gain as much, if not more, than the tutees. To be able to tutor a subject, you have to really get to understand it well. So tutoring helps the tutors learn faster, too.

There is no doubt that peer tutoring 'works'. There is a lot of research showing that in peer tutoring projects, the tutors improve as much, if not more than, the tutees. Many studies show that peer tutoring also improves how both tutor and tutee feel about the subject area - they get to like it more. Also, in many cases the tutor and tutee grow to like each other more, and get on better. There are many reports of both tutor and tutee showing more confidence and better behaviour. The research clearly shows that peer tutoring is one of the most effective ways of using school time.

Some projects have tutors and tutees of the same age, and some have older children as the tutors. Any difference in age does not seem to matter, as long as the tutor is more able in the subject area than the tutee. If the tutors and tutees are not too far apart in age and ability, there may be even more chance of the tutor gaining as a result. Some schools are also now tutoring with pairs of the same ability, where the job of tutor switches from one to the other (this needs very careful planning).


Peer tutoring takes time and care to set up properly, and it is the professional teacher who has the skill to do this. Plans must be made about matching child pairs, finding the right sort of materials, training tutors and tutees, and lots of other points of organisation. However, this time is worthwhile, for peer tutoring is very effective. It is very cost-effective considering what is gained from a quite small amount of professional teacher time. For many pairs, peer tutoring also has good spin-off in terms of better social harmony and more interest in other subject areas. Teachers often start peer tutoring in reading, but then become more confident in using the method in other subject areas.


Some primary (elementary) schools are now offering all young children the chance to be a tutee, and all the older children the chance to be a tutor. This helps to settle the young children into the school socially, and gives a boost to the older children, who feel very grown-up and responsible. In high schools parents can lose touch with what their children are doing, but peer tutoring is often more and more popular with children as they move up through the school. Like any other way of effective teaching or managing learning, setting up peer tutor projects needs enthusiasm, careful planning and hard work on the part of the teacher. It would be a great mistake to think of peer tutoring as an easy option.


"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices"

William James