Lesson: The Student Becomes the Teacher

The Student Becomes the Teacher


Contributed by Whittier Strong



Have students learn by teaching! The class forms small groups based on what they struggle most with writing. Then each group creates and presents a lesson to the entire class on what they’ve studied about their particular challenge.

Detailed Description:

This is a good activity to present about halfway through the semester, after students have received some instructor feedback and peer review. It will take two consecutive class sessions, an hour during the first and up to half an hour for the second.

At the beginning of the first class session, ask the students to think about their three biggest challenges in writing. Then ask the students to tell you their list. Tell students it’s okay if students have duplicate entries. Start with one student and write their list on the board, and continue around the room. If there is a duplicate entry, just put a check next to it rather than rewrite it.

After you have gone around the room and completed the list on the board, explain that the students will be working together to create short lessons to present to the class on one of their challenges. Explain that they don’t have to feel committed to one of the three they listed, since another student may have made them think of something they may not have considered otherwise; the students are free to select from any subject on the board.

Go back around the room and ask each student what one subject they would like to teach on, making sure it’s something they personally find challenging. Give the students autonomy as to their topic of choice, but tell them that they will be working in groups–the decision-making process ends up fairly organic as students work to both ensure they can be in a group and work on a subject of their choice. When my class did this exercise, we had three groups: sentence fragments, semicolons, and maintaining mental focus while writing. If one group ends up much bigger than the others, consider how you might work with this. Perhaps the large group can break their topic into two smaller subtopics, allowing the large group to split in two. As I require in group presentations that all students contribute during the presentation, I find groups of three to four students work well. The entire process of making the list and breaking into groups took me about fifteen minutes.

As the students break into their groups, tell them that their lesson will need to run five to ten minutes (this seems to be as much as they can pull off for a group presentation when only given about forty-five minutes in class to prepare), and that they will need to both research their given subject and determine how to present it to the class. If your class uses a style manual, have them take it out; in addition, allow for the use of personal technology as long as it is being used to research their topic and prepare their lesson. The idea of “teaching’ may intimidate some students; I encouraged my class to look at what their other instructors and I had done in the classroom, and explained that there’s not necessarily a wrong way to teach the lesson as long as it’s done well and gets the point across to the students. (Maybe not the most pedagogically accurate answer in the world, but it alleviates worries and grants the students creative freedom.) Let the class know you’ll be available for any questions and that you’ll check in with them halfway through.

Check in with your groups about halfway through. When I did this, a lot of the students had trouble figuring out how to translate their research into a classroom lesson, so I gave a few suggestions for how they might approach the lesson, leaving them to choose what would work best for them. Towards the end of class, I gave students the option of going up to the computer lab if they wanted to create handouts for their lesson (a step of trust worth taking with students from time to time). Alternately, they could produce materials outside of class, coordinating the group work through e-mail, Google Groups, etc. I told them I would have a computer and projector available if they wanted to make a digital presentation.

The next class session, the groups present their lessons. When I did this, one group had a member absent, so I gave them a couple of minutes to sort out how they would approach the presentation and also allowed them to go last. (In the future, I will remind students during the preparation stage to prepare for such possibilities.) After each presentation, encourage the class to ask questions of the presenters.

After all the groups have presented, ask the students what they thought of the exercise. If they are stumped, ask them to consider both about how teaching helped them learn their challenging topic, and about the teaching process itself.


  • Reflect on one’s writing in considering areas of improvement
  • Research a component of writing with the aim of improving one’s writing
  • Collaborate with others to craft a lesson on a component of writing
  • Translate research into the genre of classroom lesson
  • Consider the conventions of the genre of classroom lesson
  • Present to peers a lesson with the aim of improving writing


Photo: cybrarian77  Portfolio: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cybrarian77/

CC License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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