Cooperative learning activities help ESL students to interact more with other students and allow teachers to witness their learning. Communicating and collaborating with their peers allows students to participate more by using the language in lower-risk situations where they do not feel they are being evaluated.
Many experts recommend cooperative learning activities to provide opportunities for English language learners to practice using English and to receive feedback that promotes language acquisition. By focusing on the process as well as the product of group work, cooperative learning also enables students to work effectively with others from various cultural backgrounds and English ability levels, to develop friendships that might not happen otherwise, and to experience the satisfaction of helping others.
Cooperative learning is an essential strategy that gives students the best opportunities to use the language and practice what they are learning. The following activities are carefully structured to promote purposeful talk and collaboration:
Information Search – Cooperative ESL Activities
This activity is similar to an open-book test. This is especially helpful in livening up dry material.
1- Create a set of questions that can be answered by searching for information students have available in class.
2- Hand out the questions. If possible create questions that force students to infer answers rather than just find them; this will foster even more discussion and cooperation.
3- Have students search for information in small teams. A friendly competition can even be set up to encourage participation.
4- Review answers by merging smaller groups into bigger groups before you take up the answers as a class.
Card Sort – Cooperative ESL Activities
This activity can be used to teach concepts, classification characteristics, or review information. The physical movement can help energize a tired class.
1- Give each student an index card (or piece of paper) containing information or an example that fits into one or more categories. [For example: types of nouns – countable vs. uncountable, or information that fits into varied parts of a resume, or different parts of speech]
2- Ask students to mill around the room and find others whose card fits the same category. (You may announce the categories beforehand or let students discover them.)
3- Have students with cards in the same category present themselves to the rest of the class.
4- As each category is presented, make any teaching points you think are important.
Quizmasters – Cooperative ESL Activities
This team technique increases the students’ accountability for what they are learning in a fun and non-threatening way.
1- Choose a topic that can be presented or reviewed in 3 segments, and divide the students into 3 teams.
2- Explain the activity.
3- Have Team A prepare a short-answer quiz on the first segment of the topic. Teams B and C use this time to review this segment.
4- Team A quizzes Team B. If Team B cannot answer the question, Team C gets a shot at it.
5- When Team A finishes quizzing Teams B and C, repeat the process with the other teams as quizmasters.
This can be used while teaching new content, as test review, or as warm up of necessary content before teaching the next topic.
Jigsaw Groups – Cooperative ESL Activities
This is a cooperative learning technique that has each member of a group responsible for completing and understanding one part of the whole. They do this by meeting with students from other groups in charge of the same portion of the assignment. When they have finished, each participant must return to his/her original group and share his or her knowledge effectively with the group to complete the “puzzle.”
For example, a reading comprehension text or a short story is divided into parts, and students are only provided one of the parts. Each team will be able to complete a set of questions only after each team member relays the information from their assigned part to the rest of the team.
Things to Bear in Mind
It is very important to monitor these kinds of activities quite closely as they happen, especially at the beginning, since each student’s learning is dependent on the rest of their team and if someone misunderstands the instructions or the content, this could lead to a bigger comprehension problem for everyone in the team.
Also, it is sometimes necessary to explain to the students the purpose of these kinds of activities and that they are beneficial to their language development. If the students come from an educational background in which they learned mostly by rote or in a teacher-centered way, they might question the seriousness or effectiveness of these activities.
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