Cooperative Learning Strategies For English Language Learners

Cooperative Learning Strategies For English Language Learners
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Promoting Language Acquisition

Cooperative learning and English language learners go together. Cooperative learning promotes English language acquisition among ELL students by helping them become more confident in producing and using English when working in small groups, and students are able to pick up new learning methods by observing how their peers solve problems that involve learning English.

Equal Groups

Using equal groups does not mean putting all of the nearly bilingual students with beginners. It means forming groups that include students of all levels and abilities. The same format is used for each group’s composition. Each student on a team has something to contribute to the overall success of the group. Without one, all do not succeed.

ELL teachers should emphasize that each person in the group will be able to contribute equally to the group’s success and that no one person will be able to carry the success of the group.

If you create roles for each team and use those roles regularly in various cooperative learning exercises, rotate who has which role each time. This prevents students from always choosing the roles they are comfortable with and encourages them to get practice in English by taking on another role. It is also important to vary who is on what team. Doing so allows students to hear and work with different peers of various levels of English abilities.

Many cooperative learning strategies work well in groups of four. This may not be appropriate for your class’ size and composition. It may help to start using cooperative strategies in pairs instead of groups to get both you, as the teacher, and the students used to working with other students on a regular basis.


Split your ELL students into groups, with each group containing members of various levels and abilities. Have members of each group who are of the same level meet together separately to work on part of the group’s task. When they are finished working separately, team members go back to their groups and work together to put all of their respective pieces together into one cohesive group project.

Numbered Heads Together

Number off your class’s students 1 through 4. (This might vary depending on the size of your class.) Have students of each number work together in groups to answer a question you pose about the lesson you have been teaching. The groups must make sure that each person in the group knows how to answer the question. You then call out a number randomly, and the person in a group that you call on with that number must answer the question for the entire group. This helps students learn from each other and promotes peer interaction.


Divide your class into groups of four (more or less, depending on your class’ size). Give them a story or summary starter one sentence long that each person in each group can add one sentence to. Then each group can present its stories or summarizations of a lesson to the class.

Tea Party

Line students up in two lines facing each other. Pose a question to the class, and have students facing each other in the lines discuss the question for a minute or two. Then move on to another question and new partners in the line by having one line move to the right. This activity can also be done in concentric circles, where one circle moves to the right when it is time to get new partners.


English language learner cooperative learning is especially effective when students of differing abilities work together in groups. Students learn to depend on each other to complete a task on not just on one strong leader who is advanced in level. Students are individually responsible for their tasks, and they work together to create a finished product in the group by contributing their pieces. Cooperative learning and English language learners go well together; students learn to be confident in their abilities to use English to contribute to a larger group as well as to communicate on a person-to-person basis.


Colorín Colorado: Cooperative Learning Strategies

ESL Teachers Board: The Right Cooperative Learning Strategies Can Eliminate a Major Problem with Cooperative Learning

The Internet TESL Journal: Reaching English Language Learners through Cooperative Learning