A student can be paired with a student mentor (unequal pairs), they can be paired by talents or knowledge, or they can be paired randomly.
Students can successfully work with a peer even though they may lack higher-level social skills. It also benefits those who don’t trust adults to learn from a peer.
When setting up student mentor pairs, keep in mind that, while students in a paired situation don’t have to be friends, they should not be paired with someone with whom they have a history of conflicts.
There is a burden on the mentor in this type of pairing in that she or he has the responsibility of understanding the information to be taught and must possess the ability to share that information.
Disadvantages of this type of pairing include the tutored student becoming too dependent upon the mentor student, additional responsibilities for the mentor, and the fact that the mentor may not have the skills to impart the necessary information.
If the mentor student is paired with an especially needy tutored student, the teacher may want to assign an additional mentor to share the responsibility or make it clear to the mentor student that he or she may politely and discreetly opt out of the pairing should the burden become too great.
The teacher will also want to remain vigilant so that they may intervene in the process to help the tutored student learn questioning skills or to help the mentor student become more skilled at mentoring.
This type of pairing should not be overused and only attempted after the teacher has had the opportunity to assess his or her students’ skills and personalities.
When students are paired with equal responsibilities to work together, the teacher must select the pairs carefully, gather all appropriate information and materials, provide guidance throughout the process, assign a clear task with checklists and timelines for lengthy assignments, and provide greater classroom management.
These students pairs should be neither best buddies nor enemies. With adequate instruction and practice, the pair becomes an efficient team.
Random pairing should be attempted infrequently and used for short amounts of time. Appropriate tasks would be a quick sharing of what has been learned during a lecture, compiling a list, discussing the pros and cons of a topic, finding the answer to a question in the text and other short-term tasks. It should not be used for any long-term projects such as developing a presentation, making project boards or doing science fair projects.
When using a paired student strategy, some instructors may have to get the past the idea that working together is cheating and remember that the benefits of pairing include improved cooperation, quick completion of a task and peer support.
Source: The Key Elements of Classroom Management, Joyce McLeod, Jan Fisher and Ginny Hoover, Copyright 2003, ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia