What is Peer Interaction?

At lunch, two children laugh when they find out that they both like fishsticks but hate ketchup. One has a disability, one doesn’t. A high school student who has Down syndrome volunteers to help a second grader.

Peer interaction happens when a teacher encourages general education students to get involved with students with disabilities. It happens when school administrators support programs to bridge the gap and begin to dissolve the labels disabled and non-disabled. When it works, peer interaction is mutually beneficial for all students involved, as summarized in the research in the More Info section.

There are different ways to set up an inclusive environment. No matter how you get peers involved, you will notice a difference in student achievement and classroom dynamics. To learn more about the benefits to you and your students, go to Peer Programs. From teaching students with deaf-blindness or multiple disabilities the basics of having a conversation, to reading an experience book, peers will enrich the teaching and learning environment.

Peer Interaction is also sometimes referred to as Peer Tutoring, Peer Mentoring, reverse inclusion or Peer Buddies.

“I learned you can’t judge a person by their cover.”
– Yeimi, High School Peer Tutor

What Can I Do in My Classroom?

Click down to the Peer Programs section to read about what you can do in your classroom. Thank you to teachers Amy Lindh, Emma Packard and Suzanne Fitzgerald, for providing research, field-testing and videotaping in your classrooms!

Three BLUE RIBBON teams!

Starting a Peer Tutor Program

Sam – Peer Tutor

Yeimi – Peer Tutor

Peer Tutors Peter and Katy at Glacier Peak High School

Game Time: Communication Rules!

Megan Tutors a Second Grader

Bryan – Peer Tutor

Chrissy – Peer Tutor

Peer Tutor Reading an Experience Book

Benefits of Peer Interaction

  • Creates a social network
  • Makes connections between friends and in the community
  • Provides a different perspective
  • Teaches understanding and empathy
  • Allows for mutual learning
  • Provides more time for one-on-one learning

Creating and Building a Peer Program

  • Speak to general education classes about the opportunity to become a Peer Tutor. Provide them with ideas about how to help create a more inclusive school environment.
  • Maintain an organized classroom so peers feel connected and needed. Provide a To-Do List with activities or errands that can be done during downtime or when a student is absent.
  • Provide training and literature
  • Get Parental Permission to disclose information about specific students and their disabilities
  • Get your principal/administration on board
  • Have an open door policy. Encourage peers to stop by during passing periods, recess, lunch, etc.
  • Send out an Email to other teachers and follow-up

At the elementary level

  • Provide a warm place during recess
  • Find teachers that “get it”
  • Network informally
  • Look for interactions between peers that are happening naturally

At the secondary level

  • Offer Peer Tutoring as a credited class
  • Include Peer Tutoring opportunities in the morning announcements
  • Provide a Peer Tutor Packet
  • Create a display outside your classroom to catch the attention and curiosity of peers

Maintaining Peer Interactions

  • Provide support and training
  • Provide recognition: give out awards or have your students write thank you cards
  • Show results: point out different scenarios where peers have made a difference
  • Check-in with your peers and ask them if they have any concerns. Reassure them it�s ok to ask questions
  • Check comfort level: make sure peers are comfortable doing what you ask
  • Explain why you do what you do and whyyou are asking them to do it. For example, explain why it is better to use hand-under-hand instead of hand-over-hand. Or why we allow processing time for a student.

Responses from teachers:

I teach my students different types of greetings and responses from formal to informal.
They can say, “Hello, how are you?” Or they can do high fives or fist bumps.

At lunch time and recess we teach question asking and answering, “How was your weekend?”
“What did you do last night?” “Do you like fish sticks?” Once the student has practice asking,
listening to the answer and responding, it becomes easier to do again and again. Sometimes the
peer has to be taught how to listen to my student, because the response might not be typical.

I look for students who seem interested out on the playground and around school. The educational
assistants or I strike up a conversation with the students and encourage interactions by modeling
and giving suggestions.

Then we set up a “training” on disabilities, communication and sensory integration.
Read: I’m OK, You Have a Mannerism

Once the general education peers see that my students are just like them and have the same interests,
they�re more comfortable interacting.

I look for things that my students may have in common with their general education peers that they can
engage in at school, such as a favorite activity or sport at recess. There is some element of training from
my staff, whether it be informal moment-to-moment information on how to interact or an opportunity to
meet with the general education peer at a later time to talk about disabilities, communication and sensory

Having a process is important to help screen for students who are serious about giving it a try.
Requirements for becoming a Peer Tutor / Buddy might include:

Special Education Peer Tutor Application Packet:

  1. Two reference forms from teachers / staff members
  2. Description of class requirements and expectations
  3. Brief questionnaire
  4. Parent / Guardian signature
Yes! Watch this video of a student from a high school life skills class engaged in a reading activity with a student from an elementary classroom. Both students have Down syndrome.

Megan Tutors a Second Grader

  • Become a Big Buddy: partner with a general education class for activities, social interactions and emergency evacuation drills.
  • Have an Open Door Policy: allow general education peers to come into your classroom at any time.
  • Recruit struggling students: create opportunities for general education students who are struggling with academics to practice their skills while tutoring students with disabilities. For example, if a fifth grade student is reading at a first grade level,invite them to read to your younger students.
Offer Peer Tutoring as a course: work with your counselor and administration at the middle and high school level to provide this as a class. It can be considered an elective or an occupational education credit.

  • Have an Open Door Policy: allow general education peers to come at any time.
    Pair with other classes: leadership class for fundraisers, general ed PE class, pair with other classes
    for electives.Connect with school clubs / organizations: have cheerleaders teach your students a cheer, have the dance club teach a dance, invite school bands to sing to your students.
  • Utilize students in detention: have students in detention create materials for your classroom.
  • Send peers to general education classes with your students instead of a para-educator.
  • Pair peers for jobs: an office TA, lunchroom duty, classroom cleanup, counting money for fundraisers.
  • Snack breaks: have general education peers lead snack at the elementary level.
  • Morning circle/calendar: have general education peers support students or lead circle time at the elementary level.
  • Lunch time: students hang out during lunch or become a lunch buddy.
  • Resonance Board: have peers introduce items and spend time with students while they are on the resonance board.
  • Experience Books: have peers read or help create experience books with students.
  • Model appropriate behavior.
  • Practice greetings.
  • Sit with students one-on-one to assist with their academic program work.
  • COMMUNICATION IS KEY: allow opportunities for general ed peers to have conversations with students, model using symbols, devices, and become a voice for students by programming voice output devices.