Learning Cooperatively

Nathaniel David Reed, Niigata City Department of Education; Elliot Carson, Niigata City Department of Education

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Cooperative learning, information gap
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high to adults
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes or more
  • Activity time: 40-60 minutes
  • Materials: Handouts (see Appendix)

Originally tried and tested in junior high schools, this activity can be adapted for any learner age or level. Learners work cooperatively in groups to solve language tasks. Group sizes of four to six work well. This activity is a review/scaffolding activity that helps to develop numerous skills, such as using a dictionary, independent learning, use of metalanguage, cooperation, supportive/interpersonal communication, and so forth.


Step 1: Pre-write a text using the grammar and/or vocabulary that you would like to review.

Step 2: Cut the full text into sections, one for each learner in each group. Importantly, make sure that each section links with the previous section in a clear way. These text strips may only be a couple of sentences long (depending on learner level and class time).

Step 3: Copy one (clipart) picture for each section of the text. 

Step 4: Write questions, at least one for each section of the text.

Step 5: (Optional). Write the full story as a gap fill, with gaps from each section of the story, targeting the grammar/vocabulary being reviewed.


Step 1: Put students into groups according to how many sections the full story was cut into (groups of mixed genders work well and help to develop further interpersonal skills). Give each student their section of text to read silently. Comprehension of their individual texts is vital to complete the following activities, so teachers need to be mindful of this and offer support as needed. Dictionaries may be used.

Step 2: Learners collect their individual texts together and bring them to the front of the class, or the teacher collects them. Give the group(s) one set of pictures. Learners must talk together and arrange the pictures in the order of the full story. After the group(s) have finished, the answers may be checked as a class.

Step 3: Again, collect the pictures (see Step 2). Give each group a question sheet. Learners work together and answer the questions (short answers or full sentences are acceptable, depending on class time, level of learners, and teacher requirements). Answers may be checked as a class.


This activity is versatile in that any teaching point may be used, and, in addition to language learning, it works to promote and encourage a number of interpersonal and social skills transferable to social and professional contexts. With practice, teachers can use a single sentence to explain each step of the activity (even to first grade junior high school learners), thereby creating an independent group-learning atmosphere. Pairing stronger students with weaker ones helps not only to ensure successful completion of the activity, but also to develop metalinguistic and interpersonal skills.

The task itself is fully adaptable and can be targeted for specific learner needs, interests, or teaching point. If learners are struggling, the gap fill activity may be done after students have read their individual sections. The gap fill provides a concrete understanding of the full text, which makes the steps more achievable. The task may be prepared a variety of ways: the text may be longer and/or more complicated, the pictures may be ambiguous, and there may be more questions. 


The appendix for this article is available below.