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6 teaching strategies

Teaching strategies

6 underused but effective teaching and learning strategies

A guide for classroom teachers, teacher aides and students that covers:

  • Case studies
  • Peer modelling
  • Peer questioning
  • Peer tutoring
  • Think-pair-share
  • Extended investigations

Case studies

Case studies – students are provided with information regarding a real or fictitious situation which is used as the basis for learning activities (such as discussions).

Teacher using a laptop.

Case studies are regularly used in adult education settings; they can also be useful in primary and high school classrooms. Case studies are commonly used in workplaces to train both new staff (known as ‘onboarding’) and existing staff (known as ‘upskilling’). A case study is a snapshot of a situation (whether real or fictitious) that the person may experience in the future. By studying the situation and exploring possible options before the event happens, the best course of action can be taken should the event arise in the future.

Additionally, case studies are used to teach people how to react in situations that are difficult or improper to simulate (such as disclosures of abuse by children). Ethical, moral, political and value-based judgements or dilemmas can also be explored with case studies (such as choosing between 2 evils).

A case study is a snapshot of a situation (whether real or fictitious) that the person may experience in the future.

Case studies in the classroom are short summaries of 1-2 paragraphs. They should only contain pertinent information. They are often presented on palm-sized cards and then distributed randomly to each group of students – each group gets one card to read and discuss. After a set period of time (such as 3 minutes), a designated person from each group will read the case study to the class and explain their group’s response. The teacher will almost certainly prompt the group for more details and ask for the class’ input. Other members of the class may contribute with questions, ideas and general responses. Each group will have their turn until all groups have presented their case study.

This is one way of using case studies in a classroom environment. They can also be used as short worked examples, as a summative assessments task, for pair or small group activities, as problem-based learning tasks or even as the basis for an extended investigation.

Peer modelling

Peer modelling – student ‘A’ shows student ‘B’ how to do something (or how to behave) with the hope that student ‘B’ replicates the desired behaviour.

Peer modelling is a little-known strategy commonly used by special needs’ teachers. A typical approach is for a student without a disability to model a certain behaviour in front of a student with a disability or disorder. This can be for educational purposes (such as working out a math problem) or reading a challenging passage from a book. These demonstrations often include think-alouds and repeated explanations.

Peer modelling can also take advantage of the power of social pressure and social influence to teach social skills such as how to manage frustration, how to behave in class and how to gracefully lose. To do this, Student A is usually (but not always) briefed on the goals of the activity and placed next to Student B.

Peer questioning

Peer questioning – student ‘A’ asks student ‘B’ a series of questions. Students may swap roles at some point. Both students advance their understanding of the topic.

This strategy involves one student being instructed to ask a series of questions to another student. The purpose is for both students to improve their understanding in relation to a topic or issue. A common technique is to have Student A ask Student B several set questions and to then swap roles. Another technique is for each student to write down a few questions during an activity (such as watching a movie) and to then ask their partner each question. Student questions can also be posed to the class for either quick responses, discussion, debate or research. Another fun activity is to ask ‘why’ multiple times, as can be seen in a year 12 history class below:

  • Student A: Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour?
  • Student B: To ensure the US wouldn’t interfere with their invasion of the Dutch East Indies.
  • Student A: Why?
  • Student B: The Dutch East Indies has lots of resources such as oil and rubber.
  • Student A: Why?
  • Student B: Japan had almost no oil and the US and other countries wouldn’t sell it to them
  • Student A: But why?
  • Student B: Without oil the Japanese military would lose pretty quickly. You need oil to make fuel.
  • Student A: Why?
  • Student B: Because fuel is needed for planes, ships and tanks.
  • Student A: Why?
  • Student B: These things are essential if you want to win a war. They wanted to win the war.
  • Student A: Why?
  • Student B: They had a low standard of living, few resources and believed they had a heavenly inspired destiny to rule over others. Their emperor was believed to be descended from the gods. Also, the Japanese military was more powerful than the government so they could almost do what they wanted, and they wanted a war.

Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring – student ‘A’ helps student ‘B’ to achieve an educational goal.

Peer tutoring is another common teaching strategy, particularly in universities and colleges. Peer tutors are often hired or provided to students who are struggling with content, the language of instruction (such as migrants or international students who are not fluent speakers), or who need support for mental health reasons. Peer tutoring can be used with all ages, including primary school and high school students.

One of the notable benefits of peer tutoring is that students are more likely to listen to their peers, particularly for developing metacognitive skills such as organising their time and understanding the importance of homework. In other words, this strategy relies in part, on social influence to teach skills which may otherwise be ignored. In addition, students may explain something in a way that makes more sense to a fellow student of the same (or similar) age. As with all strategies, preparation is the key to success with peer tutoring: the tutor needs briefing on what to teach, how to teach it, how to monitor progress and how to assess whether the activity was successful.

Think-pair-share

Think-pair-share – a structured learning strategy that involves elements of teacher-centred instruction, individual work(think), pair work (pair + share), and quite often whole-of-class activities(share).

Learning strategies being used by a education support worker in a school setting.

Think-pair-share (or TPS) is a structured learning strategy that involves elements of teacher-centred instruction, individual work, pair work and quite often whole-of-class work. Think-pair-share is a common strategy used by teachers in primary schools, high schools and adult education settings. First, the teacher introduces the topic, concept, idea or resource. For example, students might watch a short video clip. Next, the teacher poses a question, idea, problem or task of some kind. Usually the teacher provides a set amount of time for students to individually think of an answer (such as 30 seconds). A common variation is for students to write down their response. Then, students pair up to share their responses with each other. The teacher may or may not choose who is paired with who, depending on the class. This final step helps students to further develop their understanding because they are required to express their response in a way that their partner can understand, to listen to their partners answer, and finally, to compare their answer to their partners.

Each step of a TPS activity is coordinated by the teacher in a lock-step fashion. The process from start to finish usually only takes a few minutes. Teachers can extend this time to suit their needs or vary the process, such as by adding a requirement to share responses with 2 people (1 at a time or a group of 3). Volunteers can be called to discuss the outcome of the activity in terms of what they originally thought and what they learnt from their partner (this is an optional but effective variation).

Think-pair-share can be repeated for multiple questions or it can be implemented on single occasions such as to introduce a new topic or concept. As with all strategies, the more students have the opportunity to practise using it, the easier it will be to coordinate (fewer behavioural problems, less instructions, less loafing and better responses). To maximise student participation in future iterations, keep the atmosphere positive and remember to use best-practice questioning and feedback techniques.

Each step of a TPS activity is coordinated by the teacher in a lock-step fashion. The process from start to finish usually only takes a few minutes.

Extended investigations

Extended investigations – a student collects, collates and presents information from multiple sources in an attempt to understand a topic or situation (usually over an extended period of time such as 2-3 months).

Extended investigations are ongoing research tasks that seek to find out as much as possible about a topic or problem. However, unlike problem-based learning (PBL) which seeks to solve a problem, extended investigations involve collating, sorting and understanding information.

A student who begins an extended investigation seeks to learn as much as possible about their topic (in PBL students only learn the amount required to solve the problem). For example, consider a student investigating a natural disaster. The student collects a huge amount of information from multiple sources. They sort and categorise this information, and finally present an overview either in a report or via some sort of presentation. There was no initial problem or issue that needed solving (although there could be if the teacher structured it in that way). At the conclusion of the investigation, the student may outline a series of recommendations or state whether a solution has been found, however this was not the purpose of the task.

A student who begins an extended investigation seeks to learn as much as possible about their topic.

Extended investigations usually run over a long period of time at least compared to the speed that more traditional classrooms move through topics (an extended investigation is usually not less than 2-3 months in duration and can run for up to a year depending on the age and ability of the participants). Teachers need to guide their students and the development of the question to ensure that the allocated time is used wisely and that students keep on track. Goals should be clearly stated, including progressive milestones.

Extended investigations require motivated students, an engaging topic, and sufficient time and resources. They also make for great anchor activities. Even though extended investigations are student-centred by nature, teachers can add in a degree of explicit teaching (up to 10-20% of class time) either on the topic being investigated or on related skills such as referencing, research, recording data and findings, summarising articles and writing skills.

It is common for teachers in high school to split their class time with the first half being a standard lesson and the second half being allocated time to work on projects such as extended investigations. Explicit teaching, whether topic related or of more general skills, complements the investigation and enhances the quality of student processes and output. Explicit teaching provides students with the foundation skills that cannot be developed by conducting the investigation alone.

About the author

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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