Cooperative Grouping Strategies

by Ellen Parkhurst

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Why Cooperative Grouping?

All students, but especially English Language Learners (ELLs), need multiple and varied opportunities throughout the school day to practice and interact with the language they are learning. They need to be able to engage with their peers and really dig in to the academic and social language they’re seeing and hearing all around them. Research tells us that this needs to be done in a meaningful way, by really putting the students at the center of their own learning. For some students, this can be an anxiety-producing prospect, so it’s important that they feel their contributions are valued and that the environment is a safe one in which they can make mistakes as they learn academic language. A particularly effective way for this to occur is through cooperative grouping. This can be achieved in many different ways and through a variety of strategies, some of which are outlined below.

What Does Cooperative Grouping Look Like?

There are many different grouping strategies and activities that teachers can choose to use in their classroom depending on their students’ needs, personalities and language levels. If one isn’t working, try another! Get feedback from the students as well-what did they think worked about a particular strategy? What is something new that they’d like to try? A few grouping options (listed below with links to more information) include:

Academic Conversations: Students engage in content based conversations using explicit strategies and sentence support frames for active listening, paraphrasing, elaborating, etc. This strategy also may be referred to as “academic discussion”, “accountable talk” or “talk moves.”

Guided Groups: Also may be referred to as “flexible groups.” Guided groups allow the student to reflect on their own understanding of the content and form their own differentiated groups based on those needs.

Expert Groups: Students each read part of a text then convene in a new group to synthesize learning on a process grid. This type of grouping is sometimes called “jigsaw.”

Conver-Stations: Students are already in small groups, but then mix those groups up by having 1-2 students rotate to a different group and share knowledge. This also may be referred to as a “café.”

Peer Conferencing: Students engage with each other to get feedback on their writing or whatever other project they are working on. This encourages the use of academic language, talk moves and peer-to-peer learning.

The possibilities for these groupings are endless. In general, when thinking about grouping students, it is often recommended to have the teacher place the students into groups rather than asking the students to group themselves. This way, students have an opportunity to engage with other people they may not ordinarily seek out. Another advantage is that teachers can consider their students’ language proficiency levels and mix and match groups to suit whatever assignment they are working on.  

Something else to think about is how the students will interact once they are placed in their groups. Students may not be used to this kind of group work and may not have an idea about how things should be structured. As is true with most effective   instruction, providing students the support  they need to  effectively engage with the group will go a long way in creating a successful collaborative environment.  Modeling your expectations will help students understand what they are supposed to do.

No matter how you do it, thinking about and implementing ways to use cooperative grouping in your classroom will reap enormous benefits for your students.  Involve them, and you’ll be amazed-give it a try!

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  • Posted by Cindee Hawkins on

    I really love the expert group idea. It holds the students teaching responsible while working on the active listening skills of the other students in the group.

  • Posted by Eileen Faith Carlotto on

    I like the idea of peer conferencing. As a middle school art teacher I can see the possibility of students learning from each other and that sometimes a peer may be able to express the ins and outs of an art project in a way that might be internalized differently.

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