If there is anything that will turn a group of students into an intelligence consuming cohesive monster of a learning mob then it’s getting students to teach other students.
When answering a question or walking around if you see one student struggling with a specific task and the person right next to them excelling get one to demonstrate to the other. Doing so develops a pattern of collaborative learning (an important lesson in the modern workplace) and reduces the initial apprehension in a new class of getting to know each other. There are three 5-second steps to doing this successfully: walking away, following up, and reciprocating.
Ask one peer to help another by implying the student-teacher knows something unique. I usually refer to it as a trick or hack. Then walk away as if you have to get something else done or help another. Preferably across the room out of earshot. “Hey Jane that’s really good. Show Joe that trick. I’ll be back in a second.”
Asking in such a manner provides the appearance that the teacher-student grasped something beyond the lesson, not that the first isn’t grasping it. Leaving dissolves the pressure created when even the nicest authority figure is present. The time frame reference tells both this is just a short casual commitment that won’t cost either much but you will be checking back to make sure the knowledge is transferred.
Most times when you follow up a minute or so later you’ll get confirmation with a quick glance. Be sure to acknowledge you’re approval. My normal response is to just stick my head in so both notice I’m there and give a “Kewl” and walk away. If you can’t visually tell get some kind of affirmation that the information has been transferred successfully. You’ll never get an absolute negative response because the students don’t want to drop each other under the bus. But occasionally you’ll get a kind of ‘meh’ reaction. In that situation come in and utilize the student-teachers work to explain the answer. This does two things. It gets the needed information communicated and it’ll be a one-on-one lesson to both on how to teach each other because you are basically role playing what the student-teacher should have done. So in the future when you ask either to help another they’ll have a better shot at success.
And if you think this technique is only for teens, think again. You’d be surprised how well it works with the grey haired set.
The worst thing you could do with this technique is have the same student always playing the teacher role. You have to provide some method for reciprocation. This sometimes takes a little creativity but if you want this tool in your arsenal long term it must be done. It’s also why making sure seating arrangements in a classroom or workshop are fluid or change often.
Now this won’t work all the time as some subjects, people, or problems don’t lend themselves to peer education and it’s tailored to classes with more than 6 students (I prefer 24+). Use your judgement and intuition here. But when you can, use it because you are in effect teaching positive behavior skills via example and practice in a subversive non-confrontational or stressful way.
Plus you’ll find the group as a whole will be able to absorb more information and progress much farther as it creates an educational pattern of behavior that enables the teacher to focus on the truly hard roadblocks in learning.