English Language Learners / Dual Language Learners / Multicultural Education Support – Language Lizard Blog


English Language Learners Cooperative Learning Activity

Do you remember dreading group projects when you were in school? Inevitably, our teacher would pair us up with someone we hardly knew and begrudgingly we participated in the activity. Of course, by the end of the project we knew our classmate better than ever while having had a wonderful time.

For English Language Learners, cooperative learning activities have been shown to help improve academic performance as well as increase motivation, strengthen self-esteem, encourage student bonding and promote literacy skills.  Of course, there is always the fear that a shy student won’t participate fully when paired with more outgoing students. To solve this, teachers can create more equitable groupings or create activities that encourage participation from each student individually. When paired well, a student who has stronger language skills can help a student with weaker language skills improve through cooperative learning activities.

Below are 5 ways teachers can make cooperative learning an integral part of their curriculum: 

  • Topic Discussion: After reading a book out loud to students, organize groups of 4-5 students. Give each student a sheet with discussion questions based on the book that was just read out loud. Reach each of the questions out loud to ensure that all students understand them. Have each student read a chosen question out loud to his/her group and then share his/her answer and thoughts about the question. If students are not yet able to read, verbally tell each student the question that they are to answer and discuss. Make sure that each student has a chance to participate fully.
  • Science Project: Pair students together and have them work on a simple science project, such as, lava in a cup, a cornstarch suspension, or any of a number of other easy science experiments. Make sure the students take turns doing the experiment and give each of them a sheet with questions to answer about their observations. If the students aren’t yet comfortable writing in English, then have each group tell you verbally what they observed while doing the experiment. Alternatively, ask the class as a whole to share what they observed. Record their observations on the white board for everyone to see.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Pair up students to do a scavenger hunt in your classroom! Give each group of students a page with things they need to bring back to you. Make sure you have enough items for each group or, alternatively, have each group collect different items. The list of items can be as simple or as complex as you feel is appropriate. Writing single words such as “book” “chalk” “block” is a simple way to help students learn words of items in the classroom. For more advanced students, full sentences can be used, such as, “Find a large book,” “Find a white piece of chalk,” “Find a red block.”
  • Matching Game: Pair up students. Give one student a set of cards with letters from the alphabet. Give the other student a stack of cards with pictures of different items. The student with the picture cards shows each item one at a time while the other student picks out the card representing the first letter of the item. Once the whole stack of picture cards has been completed, the students switch cards. Now each time the picture is shown, the student picks out the card representing the last letter of the item.
  • Adjective-noun search: Students are organized into groups of 4-5 students and are given cards with nouns (representing items in the classroom) and adjectives on them. They are also given a blank piece of paper. The goal is for the students to put the noun and adjective cards together to form meaningful groupings (i.e. “blue block” or “small book”). The students write these adjective-noun combinations on their blank piece of paper, search for the items in the classroom (if there are any) and then bring them back to their group. Students should be encouraged to work together both in forming the adjective-noun combinations as well as looking for the items in the room. After a set period of time has passed, have the students present what they have found to the rest of the class.

These are just a few ideas of how English Language Learners can work cooperatively to strengthen language and personal bonds. The challenge for the teacher is to decide which students should be grouped together. Sometimes it is best to put a student with stronger language skills together with one who has weaker language skills. At other times, matching language skills is better choice.

If students switch from English to another language while working together, first find out why this is happening (often it is because the students aren’t sure how to say something in English). Help them find the right English words and then coax them back to speaking English with one another again. Regardless of how well each group does in completing the group activities, the focus should be on having fun while using English language skills in motivational ways. The more laughter and excitement you hear, the better!

Photo credit: WellspringCS

What are some examples of cooperative learning that you have implemented in your classroom? Which activities do your students enjoy the most?


  1. Cooperative learning opens up a new world for bilingual children as they learn from each other, learn about teamwork and learn to help one another learn. It’s a tool of success in any bilingual classroom.

  2. Thanks for the scavenger hunt and adjective-noun search cooperative learning ideas. I will definitely use those. Thanks for the reminders of how great cooperative learning activities are for ELLs!

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