Peer Geniuses using Newsela for Secondary Students

Utilize the strengths of individuals to empower and instruct the group in a specific content area or on their passion
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Peer Genius Overview and Role of the Teacher

About This Strategy

The Peer Geniuses strategy highlights the strengths of individual students and puts them in a position to help their peers learn a new concept or practice a specific skill. In this strategy, the teacher uses student survey and Newsela data in order to select a Peer Genius student who will lead a small group of 3-4 other students in a targeted mini-lesson around a specific concept or skill related to a Newsela text. Designated Peer Geniuses for each group prepare higher-order questions to ask their peers in order to help them learn the targeted new skill or about the topic. The other students in the group analyze a text in order to build their knowledge or practice the targeted skill. Then, the Peer Genius group meets and the student who is designated as the Peer Genius for the round leads their group in a discussion or a mini-lesson. Afterward, students have time to debrief and share learnings with the whole class. Then, the process repeats so that each student in a group has an opportunity to be a Peer Genius, a teacher, and a learner.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning: 

  1. Identify a general topic that students will be reviewing or learning more about in the class. 

  2. Identify a reading standard in Newsela, or develop a learning target that students will focus on as they read about the selected topic. 

  3. Use Newsela data to identify a few students (called Peer Geniuses) who will be leading the group instruction.

    • If the focus of instruction is on reading standards: 

      • Newsela PRO users can identify the students who are excelling in a particular reading standard by reviewing the Newsela Binder and finding the students who consistently score above other students in that specific standard.

      • Non-Newsela PRO users can still review the quiz results for each student to identify top performers from specific articles and topics.

    • If the focus of instruction is on students sharing knowledge with each other about a particular topic: 

      • A survey is a great way to find out what interests students have and what topic a student would be confident in teaching. For example, a survey could ask what hobby students know a lot about or share with them a topic in an upcoming unit to assess their background knowledge on that topic.

  4. Identify Newsela texts or Text Sets that align with the overall topic and contain the desired reading standards/learning objectives.

  5. Before students begin reading, be sure to review the survey responses provided by the students.

    • If looking to group students based on learning objectives or reading standards, the information identified in the Newsela Binder should be considered with the student responses to assign the Peer Geniuses to the students' strengths.

    • If looking to group students based on interest and/or skills outside of the academic goals or to assess students' background knowledge on a new topic of study, the survey will be the resource to use.

Student Preparation: 

  1. If the peer Genius strategy is focusing on general knowledge and not reading standards, have students respond to a teacher-generated survey in which they can share their background knowledge about a topic a day or so before the lesson is to take place. This will give teachers enough time to analyze the survey results and data.

    • Teachers can also give students a survey in which they self-assess their reading skills based on the target reading standards. The results of this self-assessment when coupled with the Newsela data can help the teacher form Peer Genius groups.

  2. Introduce students to the concept of a Peer Genius and explain to them what Peer Geniuses do using the Peer Genius Slide show linked below.

    • Share with students what groups they will be in and what roles they will play in their group. 

      • Peer Genius- Leads the group in a mini lesson on the set topic. Conducts lessons and facilitates conversations as well as answers questions to the best of their ability. If a question is left unanswered, the Peer Genius will communicate that question to the teacher for further explanation.

      • Recorder- The recorder will be responsible for taking notes for the group. The notes should include questions asked and the answers provided. The recorder will also list tasks and resources provided.

      • Speaker- The speakers will be responsible for sharing out an overview of the lesson and any insights the group had on the topic with the rest of the class.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students read the selected texts or Text Set focusing on a new concept or on a particular reading skill (e.g., identifying main idea). 

    • Peer Geniuses- While they are reading, Peer Geniuses should highlight key information they think is important in green. PRO users can use Newsela Annotations to highlight and make comments in the margins to note areas and include questions to ask their group.

    • Group Members- While they are reading, the group members will highlight key information in red to identify areas of confusion or to write questions they want to ask the Peer Geniuses. Newsela PRO users can use the Newsela Annotations to accomplish this.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Peer Geniuses meet with the instructor and prepare for the Peer Genius group session. During this time, they review the reading standard, learning objective, or background knowledge they will be helping their groups learn. 

    • Peer Geniuses share the questions they developed in the During Reading section with each other and with the teacher to give and receive feedback.

    • Peer Geniuses should select how they want to support their group to understand the new information or practice the reading skill. For example, they can lead a student-led discussion such as a Socratic seminar, engage in direct instruction on the targeted skill, or engage in project-based learning. 

  2. While Peer Geniuses are meeting with the instructor, other students in the class are:

    • Preparing questions for their PG on the topic

    • Completing the Write Prompt and Quiz activity

  3. Peer Geniuses lead their group in understanding the concept or practicing the reading skill. During this time, the classroom teacher moves between groups to address questions from Peer Geniuses and group members. 

  4. After an allotted period of time, have the whole class come back together and ask any remaining questions from the learners that were not answered in the Peer Genius groups to the whole class.

  5. Once this first round of Peer Genius sessions has been completed, it is important to discuss with the class how they felt the experience went and ask for feedback about how to improve or modify the process.

  6. Inform the class that the next round will have new Peer Geniuses. This is a great time to talk with the class and remind them that we all have areas that we are talented in and that every student is a Peer Genius and they will all have an opportunity to share that talent with the class.

    • Create a quick exit ticket using a Google form or formative assessment techniques like Socrative and prompt the students to share who they think could be a Peer Genius in the coming rounds and why they think that. Remind them that the PG could be themselves. Now that they have seen how it works, the students may be more apt to share their genius.

Recommended Newsela Text or Text Sets

Text Set Title: Hobby Ideas

  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: N/A

Media Literacy: US Election Season

  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Content Area: ELA, Social Studies, Government, Economics, Business

Exploring Careers

  • Grade Level: 6-12
  • Content Area: All

Special Education Modification

Students with disabilities can sometimes have an easier time learning from their peers because the vocabulary and view is similar to their own. Peers explain things in their own words at their age level and have examples that may be more relevant that examples provided by the teacher. Also, because in this strategy every student has an opportunity to be a Peer Genius, giving students with disabilities the opportunity to share their knowledge with their peers can boost their confidence. 


  • Allow students with disabilities the option to partner up with another Peer Genius to lead the group together. This can ease some of the anxiety that may arise at being at the center of the group's attention.

  • Allow students with disabilities more time to prepare to be a Peer Genius. The instructor can give advance notice of when the student will be a Peer Genius and what topic they will be covering in their group. Giving a few examples or options can increase confidence as well.