Cooperative Learning Strategies with ESL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn some strategies for incorporating cooperative learning into your lesson plans for English as a Second Language students. Strategies for writing, reading, speaking, and listening will be covered.

Cooperative Learning

The adage 'two heads are better than one' is true when it comes to learning a new language. Working with other students on writing, reading, speaking, and listening tasks is an interactive support strategy that helps improve English as a Second Language students' comprehension and productivity. Here are some collaborative activities that teachers can use with ESL students.

Writing Strategies

These writing strategies are great for students to practice writing skills and receive peer feedback.


Many teachers are already familiar with the Think-Pair-Share strategy. This version incorporates writing. After posing a question or prompt, students individually take a moment to think about their answer. Then, they write their response before getting together with a partner to share what they've written. As they consult with their peers, they can make changes or add to their writing. Finally, volunteers can share their written responses with the class.


In this fun activity, the teacher instructs students to respond to a writing prompt on a piece of paper. After students finish writing, they crumple up their paper to resemble a snowball, and toss it to a teacher-directed area (a specific corner of the room, or an empty trash bin, for example). Students then randomly select a piece of paper and read the response on the paper.

As an extension, students can write a response to what they read, and then repeat the exercise so that multiple students have a chance to read and respond to each student's work.

This activity makes writing collaborative, and also boosts student motivation. When students know that their peers will be reading and responding to their writing, they are more likely to produce their best work.

Reading Strategies

Cooperative learning reading strategies are a good way for students to practice their vocabulary with the support of a partner or group.

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