Peer Connection and Support
Students who report feeling connected to, supported by, and respected by their peers demonstrate higher levels of engagement in school,1 – 3 and report feeling more connected to their school.4
Students reported higher levels of school connectedness when they and their peers:
- got to know each other well in classes.
- were interested in getting to know other students.
- enjoy doing things with each other in school activities.
- enjoy working together on projects in classes.4
Peer Connection and Support
These skills can help foster strong connections among students.
Set up time in class for informal discussions among students.5
Incorporate activities such as “Think, Pair, Share” (students think about a question or discussion topic, discuss it with a peer, and report back to the larger group) that enable students to ask and learn about one another.5 - 6
In virtual settings, consider setting up message boards that enable students to connect with one another more informally during class at a dedicated time, or asynchronously (outside of class time).5
Keep whole-group lessons or teacher-led instruction short (e.g., between 10-20 minutes at a time) and use the time to prepare students for more hands-on activities.7
For virtual learning settings, create an online space for students to come together socially. For example, consider opening synchronous sessions 10 minutes early for students to connect informally, or create an online “student lounge” discussion board.8
Assign a collaborative class project to be completed either in-person or virtually. Assign different sections of the project to small groups of students to collaborate and complete together.9
In virtual classrooms, use virtual learning platforms to set up smaller group lessons or “break-out rooms” so students can collaborate together in small groups.10 Consider assigning students or asking for volunteers to be leaders in each breakout room to keep the group on task. Circulate among breakout groups to monitor and provide support.11
Consider using technology platforms that enable students to collaborate on assignments and activities with students outside of their immediate community. Providing students with the opportunity to collaborate with “e-pals” on assignments can help expand their social networks and expose them to voices and perspectives they would not otherwise encounter.12
Ask students to write down an answer to a question (submitted as an “exit ticket” via white boards or paper during face-to-face instruction, or through “chat” features during virtual instruction). Then, group students in teams to discuss their answers (each team should have at least one student with a firm understanding of the solution or answer). This empowers students to help each other and gives them varied perspectives on possible alternative answers.13
Set clear and explicit expectations that all students’ backgrounds (e.g., racial/ ethnic, cultural, national), identities (e.g., sexual orientation, gender identity), and abilities and interests are respected and honored in the classroom. These expectations can be integrated into class guidelines, rules, or agreements.14
Model respect for students’ backgrounds and identities and consider seeking out resources and professional development opportunities for strengthening your own skills around promoting diversity and inclusion in the classroom.15
Consider classroom activities that provide students with opportunities to practice and improve listening and communication skills. For example, using the spider web discussion model (see Tools & Templates below), all students in the class respond to a teacher-guided question at the start of class. After students listen to all responses, they then engage in a broader discussion. The teacher listens and draws lines on a sheet of paper tracking the flow of the conversation from student to student, resulting in a web of lines that reflect the conversation pattern. At the end of the discussion, the teacher shares the drawing, and encourages students to reflect on the experience and how to have collaborative, inclusive conversations (e.g., asking students what they learned about who talked, who listened, and who built on the ideas of others).16
- Edutopia. 60-Second Strategy: Discussion Mapping.
- Edutopia. 8 Strategies to Improve Participation in Your Virtual Classroom
- Edutopia. A Better Breakout Room Experience for Students.
- Edutopia. Culturally Responsive Teaching
- Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). Classroom techniques: Formative assessment idea number 2- Exit Tickets.
- Responsive Classroom. The First 10 Days of Responsive Advisory Meetings: Purposeful and Engaging Plans in Response to COVID-19.
Download the PDF version of this page to record your own notes and next steps.
- Kearney WS, Smith PA, Maika S. Examining the impact of classroom relationships on student engagement: A multilevel analysis. Journal of School Public Relations. 2014;35(1):80-102.
- Ruzek EA, Hafen CA, Allen JP, Gregory A, Mikami AY, Pianta RC. How teacher emotional support motivates students: The mediating roles of perceived peer relatedness, autonomy support, and competence. Learning and instruction. 2016;42:95-103.
- Kim HY, Cappella E. Mapping the social world of classrooms: A multi‐level, multi‐reporter approach to social processes and behavioral engagement. American journal of community psychology. 2016;57(1-2):20-35.
- Acosta J, Chinman M, Ebener P, Malone PS, Phillips A, Wilks A. Understanding the relationship between perceived school climate and bullying: A mediator analysis. Journal of school violence. 2019;18(2):200-215.
- Schwartz S. Classroom routines must change. Here’s what teaching looks like under COVID-19. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Lightner J, Tomaswick L. Active learning – Think, Pair, Share. Published 2017.
- Room to Discover. Online classroom management: Five tips for making the shift.
- Young S. Classroom structure and management in your (new) online classroom. Accessed September, 2020.
- Ohio Department of Education. Student and staff well-being toolkit. Accessed September, 2020.
- Barnett A. 14 tips for fine-tuning your virtual reading instruction. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Shane S. A better breakout room experience for students: Five strategies that help middle and high school students form a community of learners in the virtual classroom management. Published 2021. Accessed March, 2021.
- Seagle Z, Taylor J. Goodbye, long nights of lesson planning: The secrets to successful virtual co-teaching. Published 2016. Accessed September, 2020.
- Goodrich K. Classroom techniques: Formative assessment idea number 2. Published 2012. Accessed September, 2020.
- Finley T. A look at implicit bias and microaggressions: A primer on the impact of implicit biases in schools and how they can be expressed by students and faculty. Published 2019. Accessed September, 2020.
- Edutopia. Culturally responsive teaching. Accessed September, 2020.
- Minero E. 8 strategies to improve participation in your virtual classroom. Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.