Collaborative learning

Collaborative activities are great for EAL learners because they encourage speaking and listening, and particularly exploratory talk which is really important for language development. They are also very useful in supporting access to the curriculum. Working with a partner or in a small group allows learners to feel more confident, and the language is being used for a specific purpose rather than out of context.

It is important to consider the grouping of learners carefully, for example placing early stage bilingual learners with peers who can provide good models of English, and/or share the same first language. Group work can be organised to ensure that all members of each group have a role to play and are expected to participate. Collaborative activities help learners to understand the importance of active listening. 

Types of collaborative activities

  • Talk partners: to enable all learners to participate in speaking
  • Barrier games: to focus on giving and receiving instructions
  • Snowball: to encourage learners to share information with individuals and larger groups
  • Think-pair-share: learners consider an issue or problem individually then explain their ideas to a partner after which they may join another pair to discuss their views on the topic
  • Rainbowing: encourages information gathering and sharing
  • Envoys: a method of disseminating ideas and information that can overcome a more laborious and repetitive procedure of having each group ‘report back’ to the whole class
  • Listening triangles: to give learners opportunities to experience different speaking and listening roles.

Practical ideas for collaborative activities

  • Top tip: Establish the type of behaviour that will be expected from learners for them to benefit most from these types of activities.
  • To consider: Are the tasks sufficiently challenging and will they provide a genuine need for discussion, problem-solving and working together.

Talk Partners: Split images is an activity which involves learners taking turns to describe illustrations in a text to a partner

Barrier game for maths and language skills: Place a barrier between a pair of learners, or seat them back to back. One learner places six shapes on coloured squares and explains to the other what to do. Once the other learner has followed instructions, the barrier is lifted so they can check if their cards match. 

Snowballing: Learners discuss something or investigate an issue in pairs. The pairs then join another pair to form a group and share their findings. The small groups then join together to make a larger group: 2 - 4 - 8 - 16 - whole class.

Think-Pair-Share: Learners prepare a response to an information text or prepare a news item to be read aloud and then explain their ideas to a partner. After the pairs have discussed the issue, they join with another pair, share views and emerge with a group conclusion or perspective.

Rainbowing: This is a form of jigsaw activity where each member of a working group is given a colour. When the group task is complete the learners form new groups according to their colours. Within the colour groups, they compare findings, discuss what they have achieved, or carry out another task that they all need to contribute to, e.g. completing a grid. This is a useful way of disseminating and sharing ideas. It helps learners to clarify their own understanding and provides an opportunity for them to question others.

Envoys: Once each group has completed its initial discussion, it sends out one member as an envoy to the next group. Envoys move round all the other groups in turn explaining and sharing ideas gathered from the groups they have visited.

Listening triangles: Learners work together in groups of three. The Speaker explains the topic (or expresses their opinion on an issue) as directed by the teacher, the Questioner listens carefully and asks for clarification or further detail and the Note-taker observes this process and provides feedback to both Speaker and Questioner.

Good for EAL, Good for All: Can I use collaborative activities with the whole class?

Yes, they support everyone. They encourage collaborative learning, and help develop speaking and listening skills for all learners.  

For a range of free teaching resources that promote collaborative learning see the Collaborative Learning Project website


Download in Word - Collaborative activities