INTRODUCTION: As a freshmen composition instructor, I’ve learned that usually it’s a good idea to review “the basics” before having students tackle more difficult concepts. Yet many review methods either become a boring drill or provide a too-quick gloss.

The following activity, though, shows that a review need be neither boring nor cursory. I used this activity to review parts of speech in a 50-minute class of 25 students. I used about 2 minutes to go over with the class the written instructions I provided. I then gave the students 10 minutes to learn their “area of expertise.” They used the remaining time to move around the room, teaching and learning from each other. Importantly, this activity can be used to review any academic content. In it, learners have a dual role as both student and teacher. Thus, it provides a good way for students to learn material from a variety of “teachers” and allows them to tailor their learning to their personal needs. At the same time, students reinforce their mastery in at least one topic through their repeated explanations to fellow classmates in their role as teachers. As a bonus, this activity can be used for introducing new material as well.


  • To allow students to tailor their learning to the topics they most want or need to know
  • To reinforce student learning through repeated instruction of material to peers
  • To foster a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation in the classroom


  • A general set of instructions regarding the activity; this is distributed to everyone. The instruction sheet is color-coded according to the concept or skill to be learned. For my class, I provided a checklist of all of the parts of speech and related terms to be learned for an upcoming quiz. This instruction sheet also provided a key, i.e., a list of the colors and the part of speech to which the color correlated so that students could see at a glance which part of speech another student had based on the color of his/her cover sheet. Finally, the instruction sheet also contains a few “quick-teach” ideas students could use during their teaching, if they wanted to. This entire set of directions serves as the packet’s cover sheet (cover/instruction sheet appended in Support Materials below).
  • Attach to each color-coded instruction sheet a specialized packet for each concept or skill set. The packet contain explanations, sample sentences or words, and other reference material, including relevant page numbers from the students’ textbook, tailored to each concept or skill set (see example, appended in Support Materials below).


1. Distribute the packets randomly among the students. I made 5 packets of each of the 6 parts of speech I wished to review, knowing this would provide a few “leftovers” that any interested students could take home at the end of class.

2. To begin, review the cover/instruction sheet with the class. Explain their dual roles as teacher and student during this activity. Point out that, as students, they have a choice. They may take a “universal” approach, using the checklist to ensure that they covered each term. Or, alternatively they may take a more specific approach, skipping those items they believe they know well in order to focus on those they want to emphasize. To do that, they only need find someone with that correlatively colored cover sheet. In my class, for example, students could review every part of speech or just the ones on which they wanted to focus.

3. Remind them that while they are learning from someone else, they likely will reciprocate by teaching their own topic if the student who just taught them wants to learn it. If he/she doesn’t want to learn that topic or term, both classmates are free to move around the room once more to find the next teacher or student to work with.

4. Allow the students some time for reviewing the material in their packet and consulting their textbooks as needed. In our case, I allowed about a 10-minute review because the remaining class time provided only about 6 minutes per part of speech. Therefore, I kept our review time short. You could make the review time a little longer if, for example, you don’t have as many items for students to cover or the material is denser. In any event, after the review time is up, say, “Okay, it’s time to pair up or start moving around the room.”

5. A few minutes before the end of class, call everyone back to their seats to address any overall questions and to distribute any leftover packets to anyone who is interested.


The students really took to this activity from the start. Students highlighted and underlined materials in their packets and textbooks during the review session. They readily moved around the room and taught each other mnemonic devices. In their feedback, students reported that “explaining what you know to someone else helps you better understand the knowledge” and “after we had the exercise, class participation seemed to improve.” Furthermore, they stated that “maybe students [felt] more comfortable about expressing what they know because the exercise encouraged them to do so” while they found it “helpful to hear how other people explain things.” These latter points were evident in that, as I roamed the room, I heard only one conversation that was not on topic; otherwise, everyone seemed to take their role as teacher seriously.

I had been concerned about the logistics of 25 students moving around some fairly cramped rows in a relatively small space, but they circulated with ease, sliding into chairs and propping themselves on table edges in order to hear what someone was saying. Sometimes, one “teacher” would have a small group of students around him or her. It seemed word got around when a particular classmate was skilled at explaining a certain part of speech.

I had also been a bit worried about the dynamics of students shifting roles from “teacher” to “learner,” and vice-versa. At one point, I considered making one-half of the class the “students” for half the class period and then “teachers” for the other half, but I felt that wouldn’t leave them enough time to focus on a topic they really wanted to learn. I’m glad now I left them the freedom to be either student or teacher as they needed. Doing so let them to control their learning, and it was important for me to see I could let go and allow that learning occur without me.


Aside from student’s written comments, I registered other positive outcomes. For example, there were no leftover packets by class’s end. This showed me that interested students took all the learning materials they could get; they found the packets helpful. Thus, the time I invested in putting together these packets was time well-spent.

I think this was a useful activity in that students really rose to the challenge and took their teaching seriously. I could steer a wandering student to an idle “teacher” and hear an “okay!” from both parties; there seemingly was no resistance either to learn from someone new or teach someone unknown. I think it did much to demonstrate to the students that they are “in this together” and really can help each other to succeed.


I curtailed the review time at the beginning of class, fearing longer review wouldn’t leave enough time for students to get that deeper, intensive practice they might want. I discovered that it took far less time for students both to teach and to learn than I anticipated. I’m not sure if that’s because they didn’t delve any deeper into the topic than their packets contained, or if it was such familiar material they didn’t need the extra emphasis.

If I were to do this activity with more difficult or unfamiliar material, I would prepare the packets earlier and distribute them during the prior class, giving students more time to review and perhaps to prepare sample teaching materials of their own. 

SUPPORT MATERIALS: 1. Cover/Instruction sheet


Today, we’re going to engage in an activity that allows you to tailor your own learning needs and encourages you to teach another student your area of “expertise.”

You have received a packet on a particular part of speech. Shortly, I’m going to ask you to learn those materials well enough to teach that part of speech to a classmate. When you are no longer “teaching,” move around the room until you locate a classmate who is teaching the part of speech you wish to learn better.

The page numbers following each part of speech refer to the pages of your Handbook where you can find additional explanations/examples of this part of speech. You can identify what part of speech someone is teaching by the color of this instructional cover sheet:

___ 1. NOUNS (Pink)
Common, proper, abstract (p. 456)

___ 2. VERBS (Orange)
Infinitives, linking, helping (p. 458-60)

___ 3. PRONOUNS (456-8) (Yellow)
Subject, object, indefinite

___ 4. ADJECTIVES/ADVERBS (p. 460-1) (Green)

___ 5. PREPOSITIONS (p. 461) (Blue)

___ 6. CONJUNCTIONS (462-3) (Purple)
Coordinating; conjunctive adverbs

You probably will not have time to thoroughly learn all parts of speech during this activity (e.g., if you were to review all six parts of speech listed, you’ll average about 6 minutes for each), but you will come to know your own area very well through repeated explanation. Feel free to seek multiple explanations on the same part of speech from different students, if you wish. Then, after today’s class, follow up with the relevant Handbook page numbers, our Plato system, or other sources as you need to (ask me for ideas) in reviewing for next week’s quiz.

Here are some quick “teaching” ideas: Use exercise 67.1 on page 463 of your Handbook or another passage and ask your students to locate as many of your part of speech as they can find; ask students to name as many nouns/prepositions/whatever as they can within a short span of time (e.g., 30 seconds); use association – you state one verb or whatever, the student has to name another that immediately pops into mind (*!!Be polite!!*); try role reversal – your students have to teach you the part of speech, and/or summarize for you what they learned from you.

2. Explanatory Sheet – Your Study/Teaching Guide:


Nouns are persons, places, or things. These “things” even include abstract ideas such as freedom, love, and imagination. Nouns that you hear often or ordinarily are called common nouns, for example: cat, shoe, book.

Proper nouns refer to the title or official name of a person, place or thing: Michael Jackson, Pennsylvania, Liberty Bell.

Practice here by underlining the nouns in these sentences. Don’t peek at the answers until you’ve tried them on your own:

a. My brown shoe has a broken heel.
b. Pizza is the best food.
c. Liz used her digital camera to take the winning photo.

a. shoe; heel
b. pizza; food
c. Liz; camera; photo

Go over these examples with your “students”:

This hospital needs a bigger cafeteria.
The horses have gone to the pasture to graze.
Mary found a locket in the parking lot by the curb.

(Answers: hospital, cafeteria, horses, pasture, Mary, locket, lot, curb)

Tracy Lassiter, Adjunct Faculty, English, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, PA

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