This is not the front page

Using Student-to-Student Interactions to Boost Engagement

Instance Description

Engaging students in class discussions and activities is always a challenging endeavor for instructors because there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work to draw in everyone. Students will have varying degrees of interest in the topic, and not everyone will be able to find the same degree of relevance in the concepts presented. Incorporating student-to-student interactions can be a powerful method for increasing student learning and enhancing engagement in the classroom, whether in person or online.  

Student-to-student interactions can play an important role in supporting the acquisition of new information for students and have been demonstrated to increase student satisfaction. These types of interactions also help enhance interpersonal communication skills, and collaborative abilities and can foster a greater sense of community (Amdor & Mederer, 2013). This can be especially valuable in online environments, in which students sometimes feel disconnected from their peers and institution.  

Research indicates that student-to-student interactions can have a significant impact on a learner’s motivation (Rugutt & Chemosit, 2009). Implementing approaches that align with this strategy can have positive outcomes for all learners in your class.  

See it in Practice

puzzle pieces
Photo Credit

Credit: © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The basic jigsaw method of collaborative learning is an activity that tasks each student in a small group with the responsibility for one topic (piece of the puzzle) and then requires that student to teach it to other learners within the group. To implement the jigsaw method, an instructor  assigns a project topic to a team. The instructor could provide subtopics, or the team might decide on the subtopics. Each member of the team would then research their assigned subtopic and teach their group members what they learned. It’s an effective approach to enhance collaboration and engagement in both online and face-to-face learning environments.  It can be used in almost any discipline. Following is an example using satellite images from Pedagogy In Action (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Example using satellite images

Each student receives a different satellite image from a portion of a larger area. If carefully selected, each image could contain information on a portion of a regional story but not the entire story (which could be anything from land use to geomorphic history to structural evolution). After peer teaching, the team puts the entire image and data set together to work out the regional picture. 

Example using data 

Each student in a group receives and plots a small portion of a large data set. The student makes interpretations based on their portion of the data and then comes back to the group. Each student explains their plots and interpretations. After peer teaching, the group then combines the data sets, works out an interpretation of the complete data set, and addresses why individual team interpretations (based on incomplete data) might have been different. 

Modified Assignment

The basic jigsaw method can be modified easily. Consider assigning small teams or pairs of students, instead of individuals, to work together to become experts and to then share their findings within a larger team. Alternatively, before sharing their findings within a larger team, expert pairs from one large team might consult with expert pairs from other teams that has investigated the same subtopic. 

Step 1: Expert groups, Step 2: Jigsaw groups. Concept is described in paragraph above.
Photo Credit

Credit: Amador, J.A., Mederer, H. (2013). Migrating Successful Student Engagement Strategies Online: Opportunities and Challenges Using Jigsaw Groups and Problem-Based Learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9 (1). (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US)


  • Students benefit from receiving a group grade for the project. It serves as a way to keep everyone motivated.  
  • Online Implementation 

    • During online implementations, students are provided with more time to review or reflect on the information provided by their peers. This allows for more detailed and thoughtful interactions, but also means the conversation is continually occurring.

    • Smaller groups should be considered when implementing this strategy online to allow the instructor to maintain a strong focus on what each team is doing.   


4 cartoons. 1. instructor asking question. 2. person thinking. 3. two people talking. 4. 4 people talking
Photo Credit

Credit: © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 

The cooperative learning strategy Think-Pair-Share was designed to increase students’ critical thinking skills and encourage engagement with peers and lesson content. Think-Pair-Share achieves this by engaging students in a social and constructivist exploration of course concepts. To implement the Think-Pair-Share model, an instructor first poses a question or challenge to the class. Learners then have several minutes to work independently to gather their thoughts or to identify a solution (Think). After several minutes have passed, learners share possible solutions with a peer and the pair then works together to hone their idea or solution (Pair). The pairs are then asked to share their ideas or solutions with the rest of the class (Share). If time allows, further whole-class discussion can continue and/or the instructor can clarify any misconceptions. 
A variation of Think-Pair-Share is Think-Pair-Square, where a team discussion among two pairs replaces the Share portion of the activity.   

The Think-Pair-Share strategy works best when students can interact with one another in real-time and space, but it can be done asynchronously as well. Some asynchronous ideas include:  

  • Share a Google Doc, Google Jamboard, or online collaborative whiteboard and ask students to spend 3 minutes considering the question/challenge and then post their response to the collaborative board in 30 – 50 words. Assign a few students each week to write summaries to share with the class. 
  • Share the same directions but have people post in small group discussion boards via text or with 1-minute video recordings. Assign a few students each week to write summaries to share with the class. 

In addition to promoting engagement with fellow students and with the content, this activity can help instructors identify weak spots in students' understanding. 



  • Amador, J. A., & Mederer, H. (2013). Migrating successful student engagement strategies online: Opportunities and challenges using jigsaw groups and problem-based learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(1), 89. 
  • Rugutt, J., & Chemosit, C. C. (2009). What motivates students to learn? Contribution of student-to-student relations, student-faculty interaction and critical thinking skills. Educational Research Quarterly, 32(3).