A student talking to another student

Peer interaction

Middle years

Resources are provided with this practice



It is likely that you will have students in your class who have difficulty connecting and building relationships with their peers. Some students, including those on the autism spectrum can be challenged and overwhelmed when doing what other students take for granted:

  • approaching their peers
  • maintaining interactions
  • interacting with their peers 

You can facilitate peer interaction by creating classroom contexts where all students have meaningful opportunities to meet, build familiarity, share common interests, collaborate and spend time with their peers. When you facilitate peer interactions, you provide opportunities for students to:

  • learn age-appropriate social skills
  • access emotional supports 
  • develop a sense of belonging
Student outcomes 

The student successfully plays a role in a range of groupings within the classroom.
There is an increase in peer interaction, mutual acceptance and participation.

How the practice works

Apply this practice with your students

The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

A. Plan

Having a structured activity with a pre-selected group can help to alleviate some of the anxiety that some students experience in relation to having to approach their peers.

  • Identify a student or students who could benefit from greater peer interaction
  • Identify and support peer/s who may have similar interests
  • Look at upcoming lessons 

Consider which lessons may be conducive to partner/small group work. 

  • Develop a lesson/activity that fosters positive interactions between students and is related to an area of shared interest (if appropriate)

Consider which students may work well together.

  • Consult with colleagues and consider which students have similar interests and are likely to get along well

Consider whether students might complement each other in areas such as: 

  • personality type
  • level of maturity
  • academic ability 
  • whether they are likely to want to lead the activity

It works better if… 

  • time and task are initially quite limited, specific and positively reinforced. Once a student achieves success in these limited interactions, the task complexity and time can increase and rewards may be gradually faded
  • a shared interest of the peers is included
  • students are monitored by teachers, i.e., to ensure that interactions are successful
  • students have many opportunities to practice peer interactions

It doesn’t work if…

  • there is no positive reinforcement or it is inadequate (see Practice: Reinforcing Positive Behaviour)
  • the teacher has not set clear boundaries and expectations, or has not given explicit instructions about the activity, including concrete supports when needed
  • the student is unable to stop/avoid the interaction continuing when it is not going well

Materials informing Practice

Project 2.037 Practice Brief: Relationships 11

Helping the socially isolated child make friends

Helping students on the autism spectrum interact with peers

B. Set goals

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Session title

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C. Apply the practice

Start the activity

Before starting the activity, give students clear and explicit instructions about:

  • who they are grouped with (don’t have students choose their own grouping)
  • what they are meant to do during the activity 
  • where the activity is to take place 

During the activity

During the activity, and with all students, teachers can:

  • actively supervise these activities 
  • prompt when interactions stall
  • encourage when interactions are going well 
  • potentially finish an activity if peer interactions are too problematic

It can be better to finish the activity a little early if the peer interaction is unsuccessful, rather than it going poorly and risking students becoming more anxious about interacting with their peers.

Provide active supervision for peer pairing or grouping.

Prompt and support interactions.

Reflect afterwards

Reflect on which groupings were successful and what alterations may be made for next time.

Relationships between peers who have similar interests are encouraged.

D. Reflect and refine

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Reflect on your student goals

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Reflect on your teacher goals

Please enter teacher goals in B. Set Goals

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E. Share

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Completed At: <% current_outcome.completed_date %>

Your student goals and reflections

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Your teacher goals and reflections

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Similar practices

This practice is from the core research project