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Ask a REL Response

Peer collaboration in K–6 writing and reading comprehension — December 2017


Could you provide research on instruction that supports peer collaboration, partner work, and social skills reflection within the context of K–6 writing and reading comprehension?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on instructional practices that support peer collaboration in K–6 reading and writing. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (for details, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo).

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your information. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Cole, M. W. (2014). Speaking to read: Meta-Analysis of peer-mediated learning for English language learners. Journal of Literacy Research, 46(3), 358 –382. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This meta-analysis examines the effectiveness of a group of instructional approaches (i.e., cooperative, collaborative, and peer tutoring) at improving literacy outcomes for English language learners. Main effects analyses of a sample of 28 experimental and quasi-experimental studies reveal that peer-mediation is more effective for ELLs than individualized or teacher-centered comparison conditions (g = .486, SE= .121, p < .001). A number of potential moderators were examined, and two study quality variables proved significant. Also, grade level was a significant moderator, with middle school students demonstrating much smaller gains than elementary or high school students. Finally, descriptive analysis of moderators provides tentative evidence that ELLs showed greater gains on word-level outcomes than text-level outcomes and that interventions for which peer-mediation was one of several tightly-woven components were twice as effective as interventions utilizing peer-mediation alone.” 

Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer-Ladd, B., Visconti, K. J., Ettekal, I., Sechler, C. M., & Cortes, K. I. (2014). Grade-school children’s social collaborative skills: Links with partner preference and achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 51(1), 152–183. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Little is known about the skills children need to successfully collaborate with classmates on academic assignments. The purposes of this study were to identify grade-schoolers’ collaborative skills, evaluate the importance of identified skills for collaborative work, and determine whether differences in skill use were related to children’s social and scholastic competence. Initially, third through fifth graders (N = 113) described attributes of “good” collaborators, and these attributes were distilled into distinct skill categories or “types.” Next, third through fifth graders (N = 212) rated exemplars of each skill type as a basis for skill importance and peers’ skill use and provided data that were used to construct measures of work partner preference and peer acceptance. Teachers reported on participants’ achievement in multiple academic domains. Four categories of work-related and interpersonal skills were identified, and these skill types were differentially associated with children’s work partner preferences, peer acceptance, and achievement. Overall, the findings help to specify the types of skills grade-schoolers need to relate effectively with classmates in the context of collaborative academic tasks.” 

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2013). Elementary school intervention report: Peer-assisted learning strategies. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the report: “Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies is a peer-tutoring program for grades K–6 that aims to improve student proficiency in math and other disciplines. This report focuses on Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for math. The math program supplements students’ existing math curriculum and is based on peer-mediated instruction, a process whereby students work in pairs or small groups to tutor each other. During tutoring sessions, students work together on worksheets that target specific math skills, with one student designated to correct his or her partner’s errors, award points for correct responses, and provide consistent encouragement and feedback. The program uses videos and teacher-provided scripted instruction to train students to engage in peer tutoring. Developers recommend that students participate in peer-tutoring sessions two to three times a week for approximately 30 minutes per session.”

REL West note: While this report focuses on math, we include it in case there may be relevant information within.

Other Resources

Graham, S., McKeown, D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 879–-896. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “In an effort to identify effective instructional practices for teaching writing to elementary grade students, we conducted a meta-analysis of the writing intervention literature, focusing our efforts on true and quasi-experiments. We located 115 documents that included the statistics for computing an effect size (ES). We calculated an average weighted ES for 13 writing interventions. To be included in the analysis, a writing intervention had to be tested in 4 studies. Six writing interventions involved explicitly teaching writing processes, skills, or knowledge. All but 1 of these interventions (grammar instruction) produced a statistically significant effect: strategy instruction (ES = 1.02), adding self-regulation to strategy instruction (ES = 0.50), text structure instruction (ES = 0.59), creativity/imagery instruction (ES = 0.70), and teaching transcription skills (ES = 0.55). Four writing interventions involved procedures for scaffolding or supporting students' writing. Each of these interventions produced statistically significant effects: prewriting activities (ES = 0.54), peer assistance when writing (ES = 0.89), product goals (ES = 0.76), and assessing writing (0.42). We also found that word processing (ES = 0.47), extra writing (ES = 0.30), and comprehensive writing programs (ES = 0.42) resulted in a statistically significant improvement in the quality of students’' writing. Moderator analyses revealed that the self-regulated strategy development model (ES = 1.17) and process approach to writing instruction (ES = 0.40) improved how well students wrote.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“Instructional practices” OR “instruction” OR “teaching”) AND (“peer collaboration” OR “partner work” OR “reflection” OR “peer planning” OR “peer revising” OR “collaborative learning” OR “cooperative structures” OR social skills”) AND (“K–6” OR “elementary school”)

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published for the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES ), Contract ED-IES-17-C-00014524, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.