Application for ELLs - Cooperative Learning

Activity Selection & Structure

ELL students benefit from cooperative activities which build upon their prior learning and provide practice with the target language.

  • Connect cooperative learning with other classroom instruction- review or enhance previous learning.
  • Focus on activities which contain previously learned vocabulary and academic language.
  • Select activity formats and structures which are familiar to the students.
  • Make sure that prerequisite skills for the specific academic learning are in place.
  • Clearly identify the goals and objectives for the activity.
  • Don't overuse cooperative learning. These tasks are highly demanding linguistically. A good rule of thumb is to require ELL students to work cooperatively for no more than one third of their academic tasks.

Additional language support

ELL students benefit when teachers preteach and scaffold language for social skills and academic tasks to be used in cooperative settings.

  • Use scaffolds such as sentence prompts, vocabulary lists, realia, repeated oral practice and smaller task steps as necessary based upon the language proficiency levels of your students.
  • Structure partner and triad practice of both the target language and key social skills before requiring students to use them in larger cooperative group settings.
  • During cooperative activities provide extended wait time to allow for second language learners to formulate responses.


ELL students benefit when teachers form cooperative groups which maximize language opportunities and student comfort levels.

  • Be intentional about the size of groups -- for more language support move from pairs, to triads, to groups of 4-5 students.
  • Keep language skills in mind when forming groups. Look at parameters such as familiarity with other students, language support, gender and academic ability in relation to the proficiency levels of your ELL students.
  • Provide group work opportunities for a variety of purposes (practice and review, going deeper, narrowing content focus, differentiation, etc..).
  • Keep groups flexible and mostly heterogeneous. Use homogenous grouping sparingly and rotate group membership frequently. ELL students need the targeted instruction which ability grouping provides, but they also need the rich language interraction they experience in mixed level groups.

Status issues

ELL students benefit from structured opportunities to role play in cooperative groups and from norms, feedback and reflection which is focused on their individual contributions to the group work.

  • Coordinate role play with an emphasis on equity. Choose interdependent roles and rotate them frequently to allow all students a share of group management and leadership. Provide plenty of practice so that all students are comfortable with the language and responsibilities required for each role.
  • Teach cooperative norms and train your class to use them. This will assure that students are respected and each feels comfortable contributing at his/her own level.
  • Provide time for reflection and processing. Use structures which help students to appreciate the contributions of all group members.
  • Give clear and meaningful feedback about the way students honor the norms, play their roles and contribute specifically to the success of the group.