Peer inclusion and group work

Research has found that peer mediated intervention is one of the most effective approaches for supporting the inclusion of students and the development of social skills at school. Peer mediated intervention is particularly relevant for students who find joining in or engaging with peers challenging, such as students on the autism spectrum.

So what is peer mediated intervention?

Peer mediated intervention involves teaching the peers of students with disability how to communicate, include and interact with students who may need support with communication or participation. This involves recognising the impact of the environment and focusing on making sure this is inclusive rather than trying to change the student. 
The student’s peers may benefit from learning how to adapt their own communication and social approaches to be inclusive of others. Research suggests that peer mediated intervention works best when a student with disability is also participating in individualised communication or social skills training (for example, regular therapy with an allied health professional). 
Bridging social and communication gaps can be achieved when the student and their peers actively learn how to communicate and interact with each other. 

What if a student or their family do not wish to have their disability disclosed to others?

Peer mediated intervention can be used without identifying a student with disability. Instead, specific social or communication goals can be identified globally. For example, teachers can mention that a mediator could help students to join in and that being a mediator means students can learn how they can communicate with others who are quiet or don’t use words to communicate.

Could peer mediated intervention negatively impact the wellbeing, inclusion or academic performance of peers?

When done with training and supports in place, research suggests there is no negative impact on the friendships and perceived ‘social status’ of peer mediators. In fact, the only impact that research has identified is that peer mediators are more likely to identify a student with disability as a friend after being a peer mediator. 
Peer mediated intervention typically includes a range of peers as mediators, which may also be important for ensuring positive outcomes for all, rather than relying on allocating one particular mediator or buddy to a student with disability.

Characteristics of effective peer mediated intervention

Peer mediated intervention typically involves the inclusion of several peers as mediators. Including more than one peer means that a student has many peers to play and interact with and is not dependent on one specific peer (leaving the student without other options if the peer is absent). 

Interacting with many different peers also helps a student generalise the communication and social skills they are learning. 

Peer mediators who are well-liked and prosocial tend to make great mediators. It may also be important to choose peer mediators who have good social and communication skills.

Regular training and practice is important for successful peer mediated intervention. 

Teaching peer mediated intervention

Peers can act as social mediators in the classroom and the playground. Initially, teacher support in the form of prompts may be needed, however this can be faded as students become proficient in interacting with each other. 
Consider teaching one skill at a time, and giving students time to become proficient in that skill before moving onto the next skill. 
A range of approaches can help mediators acquire mediation skills. These include:
- clear instructions
- role-plays (with teacher or other students)
- modelling (teacher modelling, video modelling or puppets)
- practise (students need lots of opportunities to practise and receive feedback).

Key tips

The following diagram outlines some of the key steps to teach peers to be mediators. This model involves: 

  1. Recognising students who are not included or joining in.
  2. Getting their attention by speaking their name, looking attentively at them (in the eyes if the student seems comfortable with making eye contact), and explicitly prompting them to look and listen to them.
  3. Offering choices (for example, play in the sandpit with Sondita, or bounce the ball with Joseph?).
  4. Talking aloud about their play (for example, “let’s both bounce our ball against this wall”).
  5. Encourage social behaviours (for example, “Let’s swap, you can bounce this green ball, and I’ll bounce the red ball”).
  6. Encourage participation (for example, giving a high-five when they swap or bounce the ball).
  7. Seeking help when needed (for example, when a student is becoming agitated).

Some older primary students may also be able to learn communication prompts for including peers with communication challenges.


Yandelora School 4/7/2019

Group work

Collaborative group work can be a positive forum for teaching all students (including students with specific social skill challenges) positive social behaviours such as teamwork, sharing and leadership. It may be important to consider how group work can be tailored for a student’s specific communication abilities, or preference for shorter activities, brief breaks or reduced sensory input. 
If a student has a special interest area that is shared by other peers, then providing some group activities that involve shared interests can help facilitate friendships.


Step 1

  • Provide an overview of relevant characteristics of students with a specific disability and the goals of peer group work
  • Use strengths-based language
  • Consider and discuss confidentiality.

Step 2

  • Teach peers support strategies for class. For example, if they are helping keep a student on-task, they could point to the worksheet and say “We need to finish our worksheet”.
  • Teach peers to encourage others. For example, if a student who was distracted is back on-task, they could say “You’re working hard, great job!”.

Step 3

  • Teach peers social or communication skills.

Step 4

  • Talk to peers about when to seek assistance
  • Knowing when and how to seek assistance can help ensure peers are able to balance their own workload with supporting their peer, and can seek support when challenges arise.







School Excellence Framework alignment

Wellbeing, Effective classroom practice

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers alignment

Standard 1: Know students and how they learn


Primary teachers


This guide can be used to by teachers to support the inclusion of students through peer mediated intervention. It provides strategies to develop the social skills of all students in working within diverse groups.


November 2021. Share your feedback here