Letting Students Teach

The saying goes, “Get told about a topic and you may get it, write or talk about a topic and you have demonstrated some knowledge about it, but when you teach about a topic you really learn it.” The quote is something like that; don’t quote me though (actually, if you do, use that quote and cite me, thanks in advance). The gist of the sentiment remains: when you teach a topic you have to go through a mental process yourself to really learn it. Giving students the opportunity to teach certain topics in class is such a valuable teaching tool, as ironic as it sounds. And that is why letting students teach is probably the most valuable way to instill learning inside of a classroom.


This is not really ground-breaking stuff. It is rather simple common sense that you should have as a teacher mixed with a little bit of security in your role as the educator combined with a sense of accountability that will automatically register if a lesson really hasn’t done what you expected it would. Regardless of your trepidations, you should be in the business of letting students teach.


And this is why: All teachers come into the classroom with a wealth of knowledge that is way beyond the scope of the students that you preside over. And when we teach, we may or may not gloss over some of the finer points that may be significant for young students as they are learning a concept. There have been many times where I have tried to explain a simple concept to a student and failed to get through. It was only until I ceased my power as the authoritative figure in the room and told Carter to go and ask Azhar how to do it because I myself was doing a bad job of explaining. Times that two-fold by the fact that I stand up in front of my class every single day and teach students facts, big ideas, and overall concepts from September to June. Selfishly, I wonder why some students easily grasp these things while others have no clue as to what I am expecting of them. I could be the lazy teacher and blame them for not swimming with the rest. But instead, I feel that there is a greater opportunity in letting my students introduce and re-introduce topics that I have expounded upon.


Funny things happen when I let students teach. The first thing that I noticed was that the students are more engaged. Hearing about a lesson from fellow students may be slightly novel and different to them. In turn, it makes them listen a little more attentively than they listen to me day after day. Secondly, the students who were teaching the lesson, in one case a lesson on photosynthesis, knew more about the topic than I would have ever anticipated. They brought forth information that I would have neither expected them to know nor expected my students to ever comprehend at their grade level. But because their own peers were delivering the point of academic contact, the bar seemed to become raised; students listened and took notes. They thought that because Nisa and Shari were up there teaching about these topics then, at the very least, they were to listen and learn about them.


Letting students teach is a valuable tool that all teachers should use. I understand that it requires one to loosen the reigns on the classroom and allow for a little bit more of an unstructured environment than perhaps you would like. But remember, in all your esteem as a teacher-candidate taking over lessons and units while that veteran teacher sat silently (hopefully) in the back of the classroom, the same thing was happening. You were really learning the material. You were really learning how to teach. And when you let students teach the class, they and the students they are speaking to, are really taking in that material.



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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