Peer opinion leaders are students who set the trends. They define what is "in" and "out". They influence the opinion of others. Knowing who the natural peer opinion leaders in your class or group are is a key to setting positive norms and making anything you do successful.
Almost every peer group has an opinion leader. During early adolescence, girls will have their leaders and boys will have theirs. Some can be positive leaders while others may be negative. We tend to think we know who the peer opinion leaders are on our own. We sometimes see them as the class clowns, the most vocal or the most popular. These characteristics can be misleading. Not all peer opinion leaders have these traits.
It is very important we correctly identify peer opinion leaders. Research by Dr. Scott Gest from Pennsylvania State University suggests that teachers are right a little more than half the time in identifying friendship groups. A more effective approach is to let the students tell you who their peer opinion leaders are. With the right survey, students’ answers will identify peer opinion leaders with confidence. Typically, they will be the one who the students see as having the best ideas, is the most respected and is a natural leader.
Once identified, it is important for you to bring the peer opinion leader in as part of your team. Win them over. Know how each peer opinion leader feels about things and what their special talents are. Spending one-on-one time with each leader can help build a spirit of trust and cooperation. It will also help you anticipate what they might say or share in class when called on.
Peer opinion leaders can play an important role in your classroom. The most important role is expressing their opinions in classroom discussions. This should be an opportunity for them to express positive norms to the class and not just an opportunity to talk. Ask them to lead small group activities and help with demonstrations and role plays. Work with peer opinion leaders to ensure messages are carried outside of class.
Correctly identifying and involving the group’s peer opinion leaders can have a significant impact on your success as an educator. One peer opinion leader can influence 8-10 other students. Affirming or changing one student, especially if they are the peer opinion leader, can naturally affirm and change many others in the group at the same time. They are change agents that can amplify your efforts when students leave the classroom.
Would you like a free scientific, proven survey for identifying the peer opinion leaders in your classroom? Contact the author, Kathleen Nelson-Simley, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Anne at email@example.com.