Cooperative learning

This page outlines the advantages of cooperative activities for all members of the mainstream classroom.


A cooperative activity is one in which students work together in pairs or groups in order to complete a task or a series of tasks. Research*

"...provides overwhelming evidence that cooperative learning experiences promote higher academic achievements than do individualist or competitive learning experiences."

Examples of cooperative activities

Common cooperative activities include:

Advantages to ESL students

Cooperative activities provide ESL students with opportunities:

  • to hear naturally-spoken English
  • to practise English in authentic and stress-reduced circumstances
  • to demonstrate their knowledge, abilities and opinions
  • to have their presence in the classroom validated

Advantages to other students

Cooperative activities provide other students with opportunities:

  • to consolidate their own understanding, as they assist ESL students in the fulfilment of the cooperative task
  • to appreciate the multi-lingual and multi-cultural nature of the mainstream classroom
  • to learn that ESL students may not have good English, but do have great ideas and different perspectives

Advantages to the teacher

Cooperative activities the teacher with opportunities:

  • to engage ESL students in meaningful cognitive tasks
  • to engage ESL students in authentic language learning tasks
  • to make tasks accessible by embedding them in a support framework
  • to provide students with one-on-one assistance
  • to assess what students know and still need to learn


Some ESL students come from educational backgrounds that are competitive, and may resist or resent working with other students. It is helpful if you can explain (or better yet, help the students to see) the advantages of cooperative activities, as detailed in the first section above.

Further reading

For links to the research and a good overview of the topic, go to The Cooperative Learning Center of the University of Minnesota.