Section 2: Structures: How to Make Students Participate

What is a cooperative structure?

In section 1 the five principles behind cooperative learning were established, but there was no reference about how to make sure that these principles are present in a practical CLIL class. This section, on the other hand, offers a variety of ready-to-use strategies that have been specificallly designed to integrate these principles and that can be used straight forward for any subject and with no modification. These strategies are called 'cooperative structures', and have been created by several researchers, teachers and teacher trainers along a period of time that elapses from the 1970s to the present time.

A structure, therefore, is the way the teacher organizes the interaction in the classroom. The structure describes the relationship of the teacher, the students, and the learning content. A structure per se is not necessarily cooperative, it can only be considered cooperative if some of the five cooperative principles mentioned in section 1 underpin it. For example, traditional lecturing is a structure, but not a cooperative structure: it describes what the teacher is doing (orally delivering the content); it describes what students are doing (listening); and it describes how the content is processed (transmission mode delivered from teacher to student).

Traditional lecturing is a teacher-based structure. On the other hand, cooperative structures are student-based and thus improve the interaction of learners. The following picture, based on evidence gathered from different case studies, illustrates the importance of interaction:

Learning pyramid

Cooperative structures offer the potential to improve interaction among students, which in its turn benefits them in acquiring knowledge in a more permanent way. At the same time, cooperative structures share some features that make them extremely useful for CLIL in any context:

  1. They are content-free and repeatable. They can be used repeatedly with different curriculum, creating new learning experiences.
  2. They are simple. This means that they do not require a vast amount of time to be planned. On the other hand, they usually spare you time.
  3. They optimize engagement. This is done by allowing participation of learners at the same time, in an organised way.
  4. Structures deliver a rich, embedded curriculum. As teachers, we are expected to achieve high academic standards with a very diverse group of learners, but that's not all: teachers are expected to help students learn social skills, thinking skills, communication skills, make wise decisions, be creative, develop their multiple intelligences, acquire interpersonal skills, and become persons of character. The list is overwhelming. It may sound magical, but much of what we want students to learn and acquire is embedded in cooperative structures, so teaching how to use a structure is also part of the "concealed" curriculum.

The connection between CLIL and cooperative structures lies on the communication skills and on engagement: the more we use cooperative structures, the more the communication skills are developed, and the more engaging the classes tend to be, and these are two of the cornerstones of CLIL. In the following video you can see how this idea is developed. The video is based on Kagan structures, which are cooperative structures created by professor Kagan and his team in the US.


Ten cooperative structures for the CLIL class

The following is a step-by-step reference guide for using some of the most powerful and frequently used cooperative learning structures. Our advice: think big, but begin small! If you have never used a cooperative structure, choose the one that you might feel more comfortable with, and once you and your students master it, try and choose another one. Going little by little is the best way to get introduced to cooperative learning.

Exercise 1: My top two cooperative structures

From the list below, choose your top two cooperative structures, the ones you would like to implement in your next CLIL class. Justify the reasons of your choice. Think of:

  • The kind of learners you have in your CLIL class.
  • The social environment of your school.
  • The content you want to deliver to your learners.
  • The thinking skills you want to activite in your learners.
1. Jigsaw (Elliot Aronson 1970s):
How it works.  This is a structure in which small groups of students become experts in one aspect of the larger topic being studied. They then teach this information to another group. The jigsaw requires the participation and cooperation of all students. It encourages interaction since the goal is to put the pieces of the lesson together and create a whole picture of the topic being studied.
Step 1. Divide the class into groups of three to five students. Step 2. Each group becomes experts on one aspect of a larger topic by working with information provided by the teacher or finding additional information. Members of the expert group engage in tasks designed to help them become familiar with the information. Step 3. Each expert then returns to a mixed group with members of each of the other expert groups. Students in this group teach one another the information learned in the expert group. Step 4. These new teams are asked to do a final task as a group that cannot be achieved if the information of the team members have not been correctly explained.
Further reading. Learn more about this structure from its author, Elliot Aronson: http://www.jigsaw.org/
Sample materials. Mathematics The remainder theorem - polynomials Each student is given a card A-B-C-D, and learners are asked to search the relations of the four cards to formulate the remainder theorem of polynomials. Vocational The algorithm ABCDE Excellent jigsaw task with excellent language scaffolding, by Aitana Vidal.
2. Find someone who / People Hunt:
How it works. The teacher prepares a questionnaire for students. Students circulate through the classroom, forming and reforming pairs, trying to "find someone who" knows an answer. This activity has the added advantage of socialization.
Step 1. Students receive a list of statements or questions to answer or complete about a topic. Step 2. Students circulate in the classroom trying to find classmates who can help them answer a question or complete a statement on their sheet. Other students may answer and sign their names only once on another student’s sheet. Step 3. The students hurry to see who can be first to find answers for the questions or complete the statements. Step 4. After the people hunt, the teacher will process and debrief the information.
Sample materials. Blank model This file is a blank model of this structure, add the questions you like to the boxes provided.
3. Circle of writers
How it works. Each team of four needs four papers and four pencils. In teams, students each write a response on their own piece of paper. Students then pass their papers clockwise so each teammate can add to the prior responses.
Step 1. The teacher assigns a topic or question and provides think time. Step 2. All four students respond, simultaneously writing, drawing, or building something with manipulatives. Step 3. The teacher signals time, or students place thumbs up when done with the problem. Step 4. Students pass papers or projects one person clockwise. Step 5. Students continue, adding to what was already completed. Step 6. Continue, starting at Step 3.
4. Dictogloss
How it works. In a dictogloss, a teacher reads a text out loud while learners in teams put in order cards with key words or pictures. After that, they are asked to rewrite the text in their own words.
Step 1. Teams are given a series of cards with pictures or key words that illustrate the lesson to be taught. Step 2. The teacher reads the lesson out loud. It has to be a short meaningful text. Step 3. Each student takes one of the cards and gives a one- or two-sentence description of it based on the lesson heard previously. Step 4. Each student tells his/her card description to other team members. After agreeing on the sequence, team members retell the lesson in the proper order and with their own words.
Sample materials. Science Photosynthesis This task is a dictogloss with key words. Chemistry The pH scale - text The pH scale - pictures The pH scale - template This other dictogloss uses pictures instead of key words.
5. Mutual dictation
How it works. In a mutual dictation, the students are divided into pairs of student As and student Bs and then each given the relevant worksheet, either A or B. The aim of the activity is to dictate their information to each other in order to get the complete text. It encourages learners to cooperate together and also has a fun puzzle element which keeps motivation up.
Step 1. Write or find a text which gives the students key information. Divide it up into alternate A and B sentences. On one sheet write the A sentences, leaving the B lines blank. Do the reverse on the other sheet. Step 2. Give half the class the A sheets and the other half the B sheets. Give the students time to read and understand their sentences. Step 3. Put the students into A and B pairs. Student A starts by dictating their first sentence to Student B. Student B writes it in their firs A line. Step 4. Then Student B dictates their first sentence and Student A writes it in their first B line. They continue like this until hey have completed the dictations, and filled in all their lines.
Sample materials. Chemistry Acids and alkalis The final task in the file, after the mutual dictation, is an analysing task to compare the properties of acids and alkalis.
6. Numbered heads together
How it works. Teacher prepares questions or problems to ask teams. Teammates put their "heads together" to reach consensus on the team's answer. Teacher calls a number and students with that number answer simultaneously, using response cards, small whiteboards or chalkboard responses. Numbered heads together uses the element of surprise (students do not know who will be called on) and encourages each student to make sure he or she knows the information well enough to answer correctly if chosen. It also holds students accountable with positive peer pressure; students will want to represent their team well (and earn points if that is part of the activity) by providing an acceptable answer.
Step 1. Put the students in small groups. Step 2. Assign a number to each student within each group. Step 3. Ask the students to complete a task, engage in an activity, or answer questions. Step 4. As you check answers with the whole class, specify that students with a particular number will be called on to answer the question you are about to discuss.
7. Quiz-Quiz-Trade
How it works. This activity allows students to practice language and content multiple times within a short period. It can be used to access prior knowledge as well as to practice, apply and review information. It provides a reason to talk, chance to repeat and reinforce language structures and a non-threatening environment.
Step 1. The teacher prepares and provides a card for each student with a short definition of a key concept of the lesson to be taught. Step 2. Students form pairs. Students from each pair explain the content of their card to each other. Step 3. Partners trade cards and thank each other. Step 4. Students form new pairs. Step 5. Repeat steps 2-4 a number of times, until students get the information of most of the cards. Step 6. Students are asked to go back to their seats, and write as many definitions as they remember on a blank paper.
8. Forward snowball (Kearney, 1993)
How it works. This structure highlights the benefit of heterogeneity because it is good for gathering as many ideas or as much information as possible. It provides dramatic proof that two (or more) heads really are better than one.
Step 1. Each group member works alone to list ideas or information. Step 2. Pairs explain their lists to each other and then make a combined list. Duplications are eliminated. Step 3. Pairs of students get together, and the group creates a comprehensive, consolidated list of all relevant items.
Sample materials. Mathematics. The teacher challenges students to use unconventional means to measure the girth of a tree trunk. Students use Forward Snowball to suggest the different ways of measuring, such as the use of pipe cleaners and hand spans. Social Studies. The class has read about past and recent examples of discrimination. In groups, they use Forward Snowball to generate ways that the victims of discrimination and witnesses to discrimination can work against it.
Variation: Reverse Snowball. In Forward Snowball, the group's list gets bigger and bigger. In Reverse Snowball it gets smaller, and the two final pairs have to agree on the best couple of options from the original longer lists.
9. Talking chips
How it works. This activity equalizes the opportunity for participation. It also helps the teacher to monitor individual accountability. Teams have talking chips (maximum tow chips each). Teammates place Talking Chips in the centre of the table to make sure eveyone contributes to the team discussion.
Step 1. 1. Students are asked to discuss a topic in groups. Step 2. As each student talks, he/she places his/her chip in the center of the table (a pen or pencil will work in place of chips). Step 3. Once a student finishes talking, he/she cannot talk until every other “chip” has been tossed into the center. Step 4. When all chips are used, teammates each collect their chips and continue the discussion using their talking chips.
10. Find my rule
How it works. A great structure for encouraging logical thinking and inductive/deductive reasoning. This activity works well for introducing a new unit, grouping students randomly for cooperative learning, and for developing problem-solving and categorizing skills.
Step 1. 1. Teacher prepares identity cards, related to an overall theme and to each other by a “rule” (one per student). Step 2. Teacher announces that students will need to form groups of a given size by circulating throughout the room to locate students who have identity cards that are connected or related to their own by some commonality or "rule." Step 3. Teacher gives an example and checks for understanding. Step 4. Teacher passes an envelope containing all identity cards around the classroom. Step 5. Students take one card each and circulate around the room to try and find others who have identity cards that are related to theirs. Step 6. Once all members of the group have been found, the group will find a place to sit together. Step 7. Group members will articulate the rule that connects all their identities and will try to guess the theme to which all the groups are connected.

The following file Kagan strategies contains more cooperative structures created by professor Kagan and his team. Explore it and choose your favourite structures.

Exercise 2: Developing my own cooperative structure


1. Choose one of the cooperative structures and adapt it to your own subject in a CLIL lesson. Think of the content you want to teach and design one of your CLIL sessions with that structure in mind. Prepare the handouts for your learners with specific instructions to teach them the structure.


2. Record a video of one of your CLIL classes where you have made use of the previous structure, and select the two best minutes of it that show evidence that communication skills of your students have been improved. Write a short essay explaining the context of this video and the reasons that led you to choose that particular structure.