Peer Instruction with Clickers

Peer instruction, a technique made popular in college lecture halls by Harvard physics professor, Eric Mazur, may be better known to elementary and high school teachers as the cooperative learning strategy, Think-Pair-Share.

Whatever you choose to call this strategy, it becomes even more effective when combined with the use of classroom clickers. This technique can be used during whole class discussions and is an effective tool to get students to:

  • think on their own
  • listen to differing opinions and
  • generate their own opinion about a topic.
introducing clickers

Benefits of Peer Instruction

Misconceptions are identified.

In the discussion part of this strategy, misconceptions are often revealed and resolved, making this a very effective teaching strategy for key concepts.

Learning is active as students talk through course concepts in their own words.

Peer instruction gives students the opportunity to try and persuade their partner or group that their idea is correct. To do so, the students must put their thoughts in order and verbalize an explanation. This helps the student to understand and retain the information.

Student receive immediate feedback on developing concepts.

If a student explains a concept incorrectly, misconceptions or faulty thinking are aired and can be immediately corrected. Peer instruction allows more individualized instruction to take place in a large classroom by creating multiple "instructors" within the classroom. Thus, immediate feedback can redirect misconceptions sooner.

Knowledge is deeper.

With this strategy, students are learning a concept, thinking critically about that concept in a way, and communicating effectively so that they can explain it to someone that doesn't understand. This results in deeper learning of the material.

You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.

--Albert Einstein

How to Incorporate Clickers into Peer Instruction

  1. Students listen while you pose a thought-provoking question.
    Create a question that will stimulate deep thought and good discussion. If teaching a key concept, focus the question so that misconceptions will most certainly be brought to the light. Avoid launching into a lengthy explanation before posing the question; simply pose the question.
  2. Students THINK individually about their response for an allotted number of seconds or minutes. Make sure students don't comment to each other during this time. Require absolute silence in the classroom or lecture hall. Thinking time is important and sometimes hard for teachers to wait patiently on. Hold yourself back from rushing this time!
  3. After the allotted THINK time is over, have students submit their answer to the question on their clicker.
  4. Post graph of results for everyone to see.
    This is optional. Sometimes it is more effective to not post the graph of what students answered. Choose what works best for your question.
  5. Have students PAIR up or get into groups of 3 or 4 and share with their partner or group what answer they chose and why.
    This is more effective if students pair with someone who chose a different answer than them and try to convince their partner that their answer is correct.

    This is the most important learning time during this process. Students now have the challenge of verbalizing their reasons for choosing the answer they did. This exposes them to questioning and sometimes opposing ideas from their partner.

    Walking among the groups while they are discussing will let you know what misconceptions are present and what explanations those with the correct answer are using to defend or explain their answer.

    You will very likely find that students can sometimes explain the correct answer better than the teacher. Very often, they have only just learned the information themselves, so they are still very much aware of the misconceptions that might be present and how they themselves addressed them.

  6. Have students answer the question on their clicker again after the discussion with classmates.
  7. Have students  SHARE their differing opinions and explain why they--if anyone did--may have changed their answer.

peer instruction flowchart
Eric Mazur's ConcepTest Process

Start engaging EVERY student today.