Recommendations on implementing co-teaching in ESL class

The Whys and Hows of Co-Teaching in ESL Classrooms

The Whys and Hows  of Co-Teaching in  ESL Classrooms


  • Cambridge English
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  • Methodology

Co-teaching has gained some popularity recently. The main question is why. Why would anyone decide to share their classroom with somebody else? Doesn’t it make the whole teaching process more complicated? Are there any real advantages of the approach that make it worth trying? 

If you are interested in all these questions, make sure to read some Grade University professionals’ advice on this matter.

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What is a co-teaching classroom?

The joint instruction of two educators (usually, an English teacher and a science/art/history/etc. specialist) is known as co-teaching.

Co-teachers have to agree on curriculum, classroom monitoring, discipline strategies, and in some circumstances even teaching methods. 

In addition, they have to collaborate on lesson plans, student assessments, and instruction.

How to become an ELT teacher?

Co-teaching models

Co-teaching is not performed randomly and without a certain scheme. 

Here are some co-teaching models according to which two teachers can work together:


Lead-Support, also known as the “One teach, One support” approach, is basically a co-teaching paradigm in which one instructor guides and the other offers assistance.

An English language teacher is usually the one who supports.

Working one-on-one with an EL, taking notes, finding important terminology related to the subject, and/or evaluating ELs’ comprehension is something that we mean by “assistance”, however it may vary.

The main disadvantage of this model is that an ELT teacher doesn’t get enough space to actually teach since the minor assistance and presence can often be treated as “co-teaching” by the content teacher.

To make this model work, both teachers should be aware of their position, value each other’s contribution and clearly define what exactly “the support” and “the lead” mean in their case.

Team Teaching

Team teaching can be defined as a teamwork of two professionals. They are planning the whole learning process on the same terms, and no one’s role is more important than the other.

This model works especially great if both teachers are compatible and are committed to facilitating students’ learning as much as they can. 

Team teaching is not supposed to always be a pairing of a content and EL teacher. In fact, even two EL teachers may work together as long as they are fully aware of their roles. 

While teaching in a team, educators are supposed to co-present the material and support each other’s ideas during the presentation.

Do we always need a method?

Again, it is crucial to understand how exactly you might help each other and why it is necessary in the first place.

When it comes to the teamwork of two professionals from different fields, an EL teacher’s contribution is crucial when a business teacher talks about effective communication, for example. 

If two EL teachers decide to cooperate and use team teaching, then they have to decide how to divide the responsibilities and more importantly why. Maybe, you have some students with special needs, so the presence of the second teacher is necessary.

Parallel Teaching

When teachers decide to use parallel teaching, the students are divided into two groups, and each instructor presents the same material to their own small group.

When teaching exceptionally difficult topics, parallel teaching is an effective way to differentiate training. Therefore, it might be beneficial for students to study challenging content in smaller groups.

Parallel teaching can also become the first step to co-teaching. To make sure you’re covering the same subject, you and your co-teacher collaborate on a lesson plan; however, the teaching itself doesn’t require such a level of bonding with each other as some other models.

How to easily deal with errors?

Additionally, this is a much more private kind of teaching, both for the teachers as they teach separately from each other following the same plan and for the students who get more space to practice due to the smaller number of people in the group. 

Moreover, students can ask more questions and get deeper and more elaborate answers due to this exact reason.

However, the challenge may hide in assuring that both groups get the same amount of the new material and follow the same plan.

After all, if two teachers are involved, the same lesson will definitely vary at least a little bit. The main task is to reduce the level of these variations.

Alternative Teaching

In alternative teaching, one instructor teaches the majority of the class while the other educates a smaller number of students in a different or modified version of the same topic. “Big group/small group” instruction is another term used to characterize alternative education.

Students’ learning demands are taken into consideration while forming small groups. You will need to schedule time with your co-teacher to review student data.

How to work in a mixed-ability class?

This will assist you in determining which students require remediation to make up for gaps in their prior knowledge and which students are ready for accelerated learning since they are more proficient in the mixed abilities classroom.

As usual, there are such potential challenges as:

  • Collecting data carefully in order to group students appropriately
  • Reducing students’ anxiety about being “not like the others”
  • The need of careful preparation and agreement on how these two sides of one lesson correspond to each other

At the same time, students are likely to benefit from this model because it focuses on students’ abilities and needs and facilitates their learning and growth.

Station Teaching

A classroom containing multiple learning centers and three or more groups are needed for station teaching. The educators instruct each group in a different way while the students move through the stations.

At least one station will concentrate on individual work or practice opportunities, and several stations may be run by students if there are more locations than teachers. 

Planning and executing a comprehensive lesson that contributes to achieving the overall objective is your joint responsibility.

Planning such a lesson may be challenging because all the spots and all the activities that must be performed should be linked to  some sort of general concept that  is easy to grasp. 

However, it is definitely the funnest model to implement, and once you manage to create and conduct such a lesson with the co-teacher, your students definitely won’t forget it.

What is an Engage-Study-Activate method?

What are the benefits of co-teaching?

Now, as we know exactly how co-teaching comes to life, we may focus on the benefits of this approach and some real reasons you should at least once consider co-teaching for a change. 

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Cooperation in case you are looking for fresh ideas, unbeaten tracks and change of a routine. Sharing the classroom with another person has to bring something new to the classroom. And it surely will influence your students in a positive way if you both are able to organize your work effectively.
  • Information and experience exchange, which is always great especially if your colleague is more proficient or knows a lot of things you don’t know.
  • More language experience for students. Learners will have to get used to two language models which indeed resemble real-life situations more. In common situations you can’t help but face different paces of talking, accents and topics. So, why not start experiencing that from the beginning in the classroom?

Among the benefits there are also the following points:

  • Cut down on planning time. At the beginning of the course it may look like a completely opposite thing. You do need some time to build some sort of interconnection. However, once you do that, you basically split the planning work. Plus, it’s always more fun with somebody else around.
  • More engaging and useful classes. The very goal of co-teaching is usually the following: to give students a chance to both learn English as a second language and use some specific knowledge for that, often from another field. Therefore, students who are not really keen on language-related activities and rules may become more engaged in a learning process, especially if you pick up the topic they are genuinely interested in.

What is a student-centered class?

How to make it work?

Truly cooperate

Effective cooperation among educators requires open communication and joint setting objectives for the classroom, encompassing both short- and long-term objectives. Both educators need to be aware of their responsibilities inside the classroom and in the lessons they teach to their students. 

In order to select the most effective teaching strategies and co-teaching model for each lesson, teachers must learn to take advantage of the flexibility that co-teaching offers. These decisions should be made based on the requirements of the students, the personalities of the teachers, the timetable, and the actual content of the lessons.

Therefore, the process of cooperation starts even before the course begins.

Respect each others’ visions, be open to some unexpected offers and make the most out of this experience. Selfishness, stubbornness and competitiveness make cooperation and further success impossible.

Learn what is NOT co-teaching

While it's crucial to recognize what co-teaching is, it's just as crucial to recognize what it's not.

It is not a service for non-native English speakers to translate in class. Co-teaching gives two teachers the chance to contribute equally to a lesson's content. This is not a scenario in which the second instructor serves as an assistant to the lead teacher. 

When two educators collaborate to co-teach, they equally put in the same amount of effort. It is not appropriate for one instructor to put in more effort than the other while the other one takes more time off.

So, co-teaching is not:

  • An assistance
  • An opportunity to relax more and pay less attention to your work
  • A strange inconvenience because you are sure that you are better on your own
  • A competition
  • A situation when two people are doing their own things in one classroom

How to set aims for your lessons?

Make the cooperation visible

To make co-teaching really work your students have to treat you both as equally important contributors to the process.

Make sure they can develop this feeling through having both of your names on the door, on assignments, and in the classroom. 

Save time

Even though co-teaching makes it easier to plan the lesson due to the exchange of thoughts, it may make things more complicated too and both teachers should be ready for that. 

Make sure you leave enough time for proper planning and are not in a rush with making some important decisions. You should always remember that there is a possibility of debate and you’d better have enough time to deal with it not to turn the lesson into a flop.

To sum up, co-teaching might seem like  a challenge as it is. However, with the right professional support and desire for self-improvement, you got this!

Does co-teaching mean that one teacher has less work than another?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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