Peer Instruction

Developed by: Eric Mazur, Catherine H. Crouch, and colleagues

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum +4
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Studio

What? Small group discussion of conceptual questions interspersed with lectures, increasing engagement and providing formative feedback on student thinking. Students first answer questions individually with classroom response system, then discuss with their neighbors and answer again.

Why? Peer Instruction is an easy way to add interactivity to a traditional lecture course without making drastic changes. It can get your students engaged and talking, and help you learn and respond to what your students are thinking, both of which can lead to improved student learning.

Why not? Peer Instruction is a band-aid on a traditional lecture course structure, which is not ideal for student learning. If you have the opportunity to make a more drastic change to your course structure, or to engage students in working on longer and more meaningful problems, consider doing so.

Activity outline

Presentation of a topic in Peer Instruction ~15 min
Mini-lecture 7-10 min
Question posed 1 min
Students think quietly on their own 1-2 min
Students record/report initial answers <1 min
Students discuss their answers in small groups 2-4 min
Students record/report initial answers <1 min
Feedback to teacher: tally of answers <1 min
Explanation/discussion of correct answer 2+ min

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
Can be adapted for:
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Making real-world connections
  • Using multiple representations
  • Metacognition

Instructor effort required

  • Low

Peer Instruction Implementation Guide

Everything you need to know about implementing Peer Instruction in your class.

Developer's website: Peer Instruction
Intro Article: C. Crouch, J. Watkins, A. Fagen, and E. Mazur, Peer Instruction: Engaging Students One-on-One, All at Once, in Research-Based Reform of University Physics, edited by E. Redish and P. Cooney, (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, 2007), Vol. 1.
External Resources

Book: E. Mazur, Peer Instruction: A User's Manual (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1997). Mazur's book contains an introduction to the method, an overview of the research behind it, directions for implementation, and a CD with a library of ConcepTests.

Blog: Turn to Your Neighbor is the official Peer Instruction blog, with many suggestions from the developers about how to implement Peer Instruction effectively.

Online Clicker Resource: The University of Colorado Science Education Initiative has developed an online guide to using clickers in STEM classrooms, including suggestions for effective implementation, videos, a podcast, and links to other resources.

Video: Eric Mazur discusses his experience creating Peer Instruction:

See our Expert Recommendation on finding good questions to use with clickers or Peer Instruction for an extensive list of databases of Peer Instruction questions, as well as suggestions for writing your own questions. Many instructors use the collection of Peer Instruction questions on the CD that comes with the Peer Instruction Book:

E. Mazur, Peer Instruction: A User's Manual (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1997), pp. 253.

Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 2 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 4 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

In courses at Harvard taught by Mazur and several other instructors, normalized gains on the Force Concept Inventory are dramatically higher for courses that use Peer Instruction than courses that do not. The normalized gains in courses using Peer Instruction range from 49% to 74%, consistently improving over time as more reformed elements are added to the courses. Scores on the Mechanics Baseline Test, which also tests quantitative problem-solving skills, are also significantly higher in the courses that use Peer Instruction. As an additional test of traditional problem-solving skills, Mazur gave the same traditional quantitative final exam in 1985 and 1991, before and after implementing Peer Instruction. He was hoping to demonstrate only that Peer Instruction did not harm performance on this traditional exam, and was surprised to find a significant improvement: the average score increased from 63% to 69%.

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication


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