Students as Teachers

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement should engage students as teachers. Following is an introduction to these roles, some details, stories and resources.


“There is, in fact, no teaching without learning.”

– Paulo Freire, 1998

This is as true for students as it is for adult educators. However, since teaching is not the exclusive domain of adults, we know that not only wise people or graduates from higher education capable of learning things this way. Neither are computers or video games the only places where young people teach each other.

Everyday classrooms everywhere are lit up with the frenetic energy of students teaching one another to say words, understand concepts, and learn formulas. Meaningful Student Involvement embraces that energy by guiding students through a process of learning about learning, learning about teaching, and teaching each other.

History of Students Teaching

SoundOut for Teachers
Students and adults in a Meaningful Student Involvement workshop in São Paulo, Brazil.

Several out-of-school youth-serving programs have engaged young people as teachers for more than 100 years. Organizations including 4-H, the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts have long relied on the merits of youth-led classes to teach young women and men of all ages significant life lessons and invaluable skills. This approach has been valued for generations, witnessed by the many indigenous communities who have entrusted young people with teaching their peers for thousands of years and been supplemented by the American colonists whose first schools employed young teachers, who in turn gave the responsibility of teaching to their younger charges. Famed pioneer teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder was 15 when she began teaching. While young people teaching generally ceased in schools with the advent of advanced teacher education in the early 1900s, pockets of activity continued. The 1960s “free school” movement recognized the value of students teaching students, and many instituted the practice as everyday experiences for young people. Throughout the past 30 years the concept of students as teachers has gained momentum as more professional educators are beginning to see its effects.

Research on Students as Teachers

There is a plethora of research supporting the effectiveness of engaging students as teachers. A variety of findings shows how teaching results in better learning than being taught in traditional methods. When students prepare to teach other students, learning suddenly involves active thinking about material, analysis and selection of main ideas, and processing the concepts into one’s own thoughts and words. (Morgan J. , 2011) Also, the superiority of student-led teaching is particularly marked for students below the median in ability.

Most importantly, moving students to the front of the classroom moves young people from being passive recipients to becoming active drivers of learning. We know that learning is a lifelong process that requires a variety of inputs; Meaningful Student Involvement effectively engages students as intentional drivers of that process. Engaged as partners, students can strengthen, expand, and deepen their learning through teaching. Teaching is equally mindset and ability: students must develop their capacity for teaching by believing in themselves and developing their skills.

Types of Student Teaching

While peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, and student-driven conversations are popular in classrooms, it is rare for adult educators to actually turn classroom control over to students, or to share that control equally with students. Meaningful Student Involvement shows how courses which are co-taught with students can be powerfully engaging for peers, younger students, and adult learners. Engaging students as teachers can be a radical departure from the rigid norms of learning and teaching that many people, including adults and students, are accustomed to. Therefore, it is vital for adults to examine their own perspectives about this engaging students as partners in teaching before attempting to facilitate it with students.

Meaningful Student Involvement engages students as teachers as a way to strengthen students’ learning and teachers’ efficacy. Students can experience a variety of significant classroom teaching experiences, such as partnering with teachers or peers to deliver curriculum, teaching fellow students in lower grade levels, or teaching adults. They also participate in choosing the activities and content of their lesson plans.

Places Where Students Can Teach

Places in schools that can engage students as classroom teachers include:

  • Classrooms: Student/adult co-teaching teams are used; student-centered methods are integrated throughout a classroom; multiple intelligences are honored throughout the class.
  • Administration: Teachers participate in professional development focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement, student-led training for teachers
  • Culture: Model student-driven learning throughout education and engage students as co-learners and co-facilitators of staff professional development activities.

Meaningful Student Involvement recognizes the importance of acknowledging the knowledge of students, and charges them with the responsibility of educating their peers, younger students or adults. Students teaching students is not meant to undermine the influence or ability of adult educators: instead, it uplifts the role of educators by making their knowledge and abilities accessible to more students. A growing body of practice and research from the education arena reinforces the seemingly radical belief that students can teach students effectively, given appropriate support from their adult teachers.

Examples of Students as Teachers

The following examples show students serving as teaching assistants, partnering with teachers or peers to deliver curriculum, teaching peers or students on their own, or teaching adults in a variety of settings. (Kirk, 2014)

Considerations for Students as Teachers

While a growing number of educators recognize the validity of students’ thoughts about schools, few see students actually being players in addressing those concerns.

Engaging students in teaching fills a three-fold gap in student learning:

  1. It develops empathy between students and teachers, making students more understanding of teachers’ jobs while making teachers more aware of students learning needs.
  2. It makes learning more tangible and relevant for students, particularly for students without the ability to access other “real-world” learning opportunities.
  3. It empowers students to approach the problems they identify in their classrooms through critical analysis and applicable solutions.

Engaging students as teachers is more than simply teaching new tricks to an old dog. It challenges the old dog to teach others, and to allow the younger pups to teach themselves.

Spaces for Student Voice
These are the spaces where student voice should be engaged throughout education.

You Might Like…


  • Cervone, B. (2001) “Making youth known: Moving to the head of the class: students who teach in summer programs learn, give back.” WKCD News Series 1(2). Providence, RI: What Kids Can Do.
  • Dean, L. & Murdock, S. (1992). “Effect Of voluntary service on adolescent attitudes toward learning,” Journal of Volunteer Administration 10(4): 5-10.
  • Gartner, A, & Riessman, F. (1993). Peer-tutoring: Toward a new model. ERIC Digest ED362506.
  • Lee, F. C. H., & Murdock, S. (2001). “Teenagers as teachers programs: Ten essential elements,” Journal of Extension 39(1).
  • Sarason, S. (1998). “Ch. 11: Students as teachers” in Teaching as a Performing Art. New York: Teachers College Press.


Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at

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