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Learning by teaching

Teaching strategies

Learning by teaching

A little-known yet highly effective strategy that we recommend for all teachers and teacher aides regardless of topic, grade or students’ ability.

Learning by teaching – a student learns by teaching someone else.

Image of a classroom with two students holding up hand drawn artwork.

Have you noticed that when you show someone how to do something, you suddenly feel more like an expert? Maybe you noticed that by teaching something, it made more sense and you had a better overall understanding? Educators know this phenomenon well and it’s called learning by teaching. The act of teaching builds confidence and deepens understanding of the topic.i There are several reasons why this technique is so successful, why it improves confidence and why the student-teacher often learns as much (or more) than their students:

  • The student-teacher needs to think about the desired result (the end), what the learner knows and doesn’t know (the start) and the steps to bridge the gap between these 2 points.
  • The student-teacher needs to think about the best way to teach the students: how to explain the topic clearly, how to break down each step, what hints and tips to provide and ways to avoid common mistakes.
  • The student-teacher needs to support the learners, evaluate their performance and/or understanding at each step and consider improvements in their own teaching methods, processes and explanations.
  • The student-teacher must answer questions and successfully endure the barrage of ‘but why’ statements. Any gaps in the student-teacher’s knowledge will become obvious, forcing them to seek answers.
  • The student-teacher needs to link each step and make decisions about how to best scaffold and chunk the process or content.
  • The student-teacher needs to evaluate which parts of the task are easy and which are more difficult.
  • The student-teacher needs to summarise the task and each step.
  • The student-teacher needs to assess the student’s understanding and performance, as well as explain how they could improve in the future.

One of the effects of the learning by teaching strategy is that the student-teacher consolidates their knowledge by self-assessing their own abilities during each step of the process. This allows the student- teacher to confirm which steps they have mastered and where any gaps in their own understanding lie. The student-teacher can usually fill these knowledge gaps by becoming an effective self-directed learner. In addition, and as with all student-centred strategies, the development of communication and interpersonal skill is commonly highlighted as being the key benefits of implementing learning by teaching.

Hint: do not have someone that you can teach? If you don’t, no problems – teach your pet or a stuffed toy! They may not ask questions, but the process is just as effective.

The learning by teaching strategy can be implemented in a variety of contexts including primary schools, high schools and adult learning environments (including the workplace). Instructional designers also call this strategy ‘peer teaching’, ‘peer tutoring’, ‘peer modelling’ and sometimes ‘peer mentoring’. These strategies are all slight variations on each other, but they are nonetheless useful in certain circumstances.

One of the effects of the learning by teaching strategy is that the student-teacher consolidates their knowledge by self-assessing their own abilities during each step of the process.

Implementing a learning by teaching strategy takes additional forethought in terms of planning. Students will also need additional practice particularly when they are new to teaching others. Teachers need to ensure that all students are aware of behavioural expectations such as being respectful to each other. Explaining some basic teaching strategies (such as modelling and chunking) is also useful. In a classroom environment, teachers can ask students to each research their own topic of interest, and then pair up and take turns teaching each other. In a workplace environment, managers can ask staff to teach a new employee with the hope that both participants extend their knowledge regarding the topic at hand.

Hint: one of the best strategies for students who are hyperactive, who are regularly off-task, who have a high need to socialise, who are very extroverted, who have ADHD or who just love being the centre of attention is to get them involved. Teachers often get students who fall into these categories to do ‘jobs’ for them (such as writing instructions on the board). Having these students teach a mini lesson to the class or a small group (particularly on a topic where they excel or have an interest) will provide an outlet for their drive for attention and to socialise. It also helps to ‘get them on side’ and to ‘win them over’ as they say in the trade.

Foot notes:

  1. Ribosa, J. (2020). Learning by teaching: Evidence-based strategies to enhance learning in the classroom, Innovations. Education and Teaching International, 57(1), 131-132. doi: 10.1080/14703297.2020.1705522.

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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