Peer tutoring, where top students help their classmates, can be an important asset in the classroom. Often, peers can help other students understand or relate to a concept in ways a teacher, especially an older teacher, may have difficulty achieving. In addition, students may be more receptive to tutoring from a peer, feeling less inhibited from asking questions.
One way top students can help their fellows in the classroom is to operate as team or group leaders. Having group or team projects, carefully controlled by the teacher, can give top students a chance to use informal diplomacy to guide classmates toward better academic performance. A popular student in charge of a group may be better able to convince his or her fellows to work than a teacher saying “work, work, work!” Such group leadership opportunities may be appreciated by all students for allowing greater creative freedom and may be appreciated by the top students for providing leadership experience.
A second way top students can help in the classroom is to act as presenters of topics, either as individuals or as team leaders. Students may be able to present information in more easily-manageable phrases and “chunks” than can teachers who do not necessarily know today’s lingo. Students can reference popular sports, current events, or video games and movies as illustrators of academic concepts. Additionally, putting students in the “hot seat” by requiring them to present information in presentation or lecture form could improve student behavior by giving them a chance to see what audience apathy and disrespect feel like as a public speaker.
Top students can also help as official tutors, with certain days or times being designated as team tutorials where top-ranked students are paired with struggling students to assist them with their schoolwork. Over time, a camaraderie may develop between a tutor and his or her charge, with the students becoming friends. The pairing of top-performing students with lower-performing students may help lower-performing students see that it is not necessarily uncool to excel academically. Mentor relationships can also be established among top-performing students of different grade levels, with top-performing high school seniors mentoring sophomores and juniors mentoring freshmen.
However, care must be taken in establishing such programs. Not every top-performing student may be well-suited to group leadership or peer tutoring and should not be forced to if uncomfortable. Similarly, not every lower-performing student will want to be tutored or mentored by a classmate, perhaps feeling the situation degrading. Mentor, tutoring, and group leadership programs and policies should be enacted carefully and only utilize select students who will likely excel in the tasks.