Reciprocal peer teaching: students teaching students in the gross anatomy laboratory

Clin Anat. 2005 May;18(4):296-301. doi: 10.1002/ca.20090.


Three common instructional strategies used to teach gross anatomy are lecture, discovery or inquiry-based learning, and cooperative learning. One form of cooperative learning, called reciprocal peer teaching (RPT), illustrates circumstances where students alternate roles as teacher and student. By assuming the responsibility of teaching their peers, students not only improve their understanding of course content, but also develop communication skills, teamwork, leadership, confidence and respect for peers that are vital to developing professionalism early in their medical careers. Traditionally in our Anatomy department, students dissect the entire body using a standard dissection manual. More non-traditionally, however, we have increased cooperative learning in the dissection laboratory by involving students in a series of supplementary RPT activities. During these exercises, 10% of the class practiced their demonstration with course instructors until the students felt prepared to demonstrate the exercise to their classmates. We designed one peer demonstration emphasizing three to six teaching objectives for most of the 40 dissection units. This resulted in a compendium of peer demonstrations for implementation throughout the course. The multitude of diverse exercises permitted each student many opportunities to teach their peers. A debriefing questionnaire was administered at the end of the course demonstrating that 100% of students agreed the RPT experience increased their understanding of the topics they taught and 97% agreed it increased their retention of information they taught to their peers. In addition, 92% agreed that RPT improved their communication skills, which can be applied beyond anatomy to their careers as future physicians.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / education*
  • Curriculum
  • Dissection
  • Education, Medical / trends*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Peer Group*