Student-to-Student Relationships in the Language Classroom

February 2021

In September 2020 we published an issue on the Social Brain. We realized then that this topic is far too rich to be contained in a single Think Tank issue, so we’re following up this month with another “social” issue: focused on student-to-student interaction in the classroom. Who else should our students talk with, if not each other? We explore the science of peer interactions and relationships in this issue and offer practical tips for teachers to use in their classrooms. 

Cover photo by Tomwang112 on iStock Photos. Others from,

Watch before you read...

This issue, organized by guest editor Skye Playsted, is sister to the Social Brain Think Tank. So, we start with a delightful lecture on the Social Mind by Louis Cozolino, one of our favorites. We also offer four short, but informative, videos that Pat Kuhl, a leading neuroscientist, made for Edutopia.

Curtis Kelly starts the Think Tank off with the fundamentals of student relationships. Then we look at four related theories in an article that D. S. Bowyer, Jason Walters, Yulia Kharchenko, and Skye Playsted collaborated on. We continue with articles by two heavyweights in the field, Phil Chappell and Tim Murphey. They show us how students can help each other learn through a particular kind of classroom talk, or by an imaginative way to conduct tests. We close the Think Tank that with three pages of activities guaranteed to get your students working together with joy. Finally, Ken Purnell gives us some very good reasons why we should study educational neuroscience, a field that did not exist when most of us were in school.

“A person is a person through other persons”Desmond Tutu

Pat Kuhl

Learning and the Social Brain (4 videos)

Our Thoughts on Student-to-Student Relationships

S2S: The Connected Classroom Curtis Kelly

Thirty minutes searching for “student relationships” on Google Scholar will show you there is an abundance of research on teacher-student relationships, and a dearth on student-student relationships. Johnson refers to student interaction as “the neglected variable in education” (1981). We intend to make up for that shortfall with this issue, but first, let’s take a quick look at what educational psychology has to tell us about student-to-student relationships.

Think Tank Articles

Student-to-Student: Perspectives from the Literature D.S. Bowyer, Jason Walters, Yulia Kharchenko, & Skye Playsted

Every teacher understands that the way that students interact, relate, and shape each other’s experience is an important factor of learning, and yet the research on this social arena is surprisingly limited. We have assembled experts to explain four related theories for us. We hope this will give us a clearer perspective.

Inquiry Dialogue and the Balancing Act to Invigorate Our Students’ Minds Phil Chappell

This article is about classroom talk. The most fascinating aspect of English Language Teaching! We all do it, and we do it in different ways. Some for the good of our students, and, unfortunately, some to the detriment of our students’ learning. But that can be fixed.

Using Social Testing to Brighten One of Life's Darkest Moments Tim Murphey

Certainly, one of the most a-social times for our students is when they are taking tests. Traditionally, they are not permitted to talk to others, exchange ideas, collaborate, help others, laugh out loud, or make a new friend … they must do it all alone! However, in normal, everyday life when we do not know something, we can ask people for help, we can be social, and not feel alone and alienated—a direction that our societies are going more and more (aka “III,” Increasing Isolation and Individualization, the reason the UK now has a Minister for Loneliness). Thus, because tests are so isolating, they are also stressful, alienating, depressing, and basically one of the lowest-ranked learning events in places that advertise themselves as learning institutions!

Theory to Practice: Super Fantastic Student-to-Student Language Learning Activities The Usual Suspects

We sat down and discussed our favorite activities to build student interdependence and here they are, arranged by time and scope.

Think Tank Plus

Trans/Informing our Practices Through Knowledge and Use of Educational Neuroscience Ken Purnell

As educators, we love new ideas on how to enhance our practices. We try the latest and greatest and just hope that it is not yet another fad that may fade away again. Good news: Educational Neuroscience is here to stay and is solidly evidence-based in scientific research and good practice.

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

Just as we always thought! Having friends in class doesn’t just give our students psychological balance, it also improves their ability to learn. Click on these blog articles to find out why.

Be More Us

It is not always easy for students to communicate with each other, but maybe showing them this video on how the experts do it, will help.

Even if not, it will make everyone smile.

Remember, friends, that distancing is important!

With much appreciated permission from Dan Piraro,

Why we will always have jobs. source

Looking Back

In last month’s Think Tank, Jonathan Shachter wrote about a professor he adored, Karl Teigen, best known for the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Guess what? We just found out from Jonathan that “Dr. Teigen read the Think Tank!”

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan             Julia Daley                     Marc Helgesen

Curtis H. Kelly                Skye Playsted             Heather McCulloch



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