Developing Strong Student to Student Partnerships

As the school year begins, many of us are talking about how to build strong student to student partnerships in our classrooms. When students collaborate in effective partnerships, learning increases and a sense of belonging is nurtured. In this post, I want to share some partnership ideas.

Effective partnerships are ones where both students feel seen, heard, and respected. Each of them has a chance to communicate their ideas to the other, and often students build off of each other’s ideas or probe to understand more.

Often student partnerships are established by the teacher intentionally pairing students together, based on strengths and interests. This allows students to get to know each other and feel safe taking risks as learners. For multilingual students who are newcomers or at the early stage of developing English language, triads are recommended (with two of the three students multilingual with the same first language). When students select their own partners, it is important to set ground rules, such as: be open to working with someone new who approaches you to be your partner and share your name and a few facts about yourself before you begin the task. It is also helpful to establish roles or jobs, when first introducing partnerships to students: one person is the listener and one is the reader, then switch; one person gets the materials and the other person puts the materials away; Partner A shares first and Partner B tells one thing they heard Partner A say before Partner A shares.

Interactive Modeling (IM) is extremely helpful in showing students how to greet, turn and talk, solve problems, decide who does what, etc. By modeling for students and discussing the moves partners made with each other during the IM, a teacher can make the work of partnerships visible and clear. Expectations are set for students to work together respectfully.

It is helpful to give an academic goal for partnership work or partnership talk. I also find it helpful to set a social-emotional goal, such as “Learners will be able to identify commonalities they share with peers.” A teacher can give sentence stems to support the goal, such as My name is ___ and I like to ___. How about you? and I am proud that we both did ___ when we worked together today. A colleague suggested to provide these in prompts in additional languages, if your room has multilingual students, especially if they are working in triads. A great idea!

When students are working in partnerships, the teacher travels the room to observe and coach with lean tips. Students are often able to solve problems together if we give them time and encouragement, so teachers should pause before making suggestions. When we coach, we offer minimal prompts, giving students a tip instead of solving the problem for them. For example,

  • Did you solve a problem like this with your partner yesterday? What worked?
  • When this happened at recess, how do you proceed?

Provide specific feedback on what students are doing well and encourage them to add on when possible. Try to use precise language that connects back to the social-emotional or academic goal. For example: Sami did you notice what you just did that showed Anton that you were listening? Tell me what savvy partnership move you just made. The teacher can ask students for feedback as a debrief, to find out what strategies the teacher introduced that were useful and what improvements can be made.

As with all learning experiences, reflection helps students celebrate successes and set goals for future endeavors. This is very powerful when partners share a success about each other and about the partnership: You had a helpful strategy for solving getting started and we took turns with each part of our assignment. Students can reflect on the process, the partnership, and the learning.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford