Section 3. Enhancing group autonomy

Group autonomy and the teacher's role

Autonomy might at first seem to be the opposite of cooperation. However, autonomy is best conceived of not as individuals being on their own but as having power over their own fate. Cooperative learning activities can give students some of that power, as no longer the teacher is a direct supervisor of students, no longer is his or her responsibility to watch for every mistake and correct it on the spot. Instead, authority is delegated to students and to groups of students. They are in charge of insuring that the job gets done, and that classmates get the help they need.

This section suggests that cooperative learning groups can have more autonomy. This can be achieved through two different actions: the first one implies the reformulation of the teacher's role in a cooperative learning class; the second one implies assigning different roles and gambits to learners in their groups that facilitate and enhance autonomy.

Let's move now to the reformulation of the teacher's role. In a cooperative learning class, have we made ourselves unnecessary? Will we be replaced by our own students? Definitely not, although, as stated above, with cooperative learning, our students do take on some of the roles we used to play. The following spidergram includes some of the critical ongoing roles of a CLIL teacher in a cooperative learning class:

Teacher's roles

Teacher's roles in a cooperative learning CLIL lesson

  • Providing context and scaffolding. The teacher decides the contents to learn in the lesson and connects them to prior and future learning. As for scaffolding, it is crucial in any CLIL settings, it improves dramatically the autonomy of learners and it increases the chance that groups will succeed on their own. Connected with this role of the teacher, it arises the need to end cooperative learning lessons in a way that students share with each other what they have learned. One simple way to do this is the following scheme, based on the structure Forward snowball:
Step 1. Each member of a pair writes two to five main ideas that they have learned and one question that they still have.
Step 2. Partners compare their main ideas and questions. They try to improve on their descriptions of main ideas and try to answer each other's questions.
Step 3. The teacher calls on students at random to share what their pair discussed.

You can read more on scaffolding at CLSI Module 2

  • Modeling social skills. To model any skill for a team of for the whole class, we role-play the skill for the class. Take a look at the picture below, taken from Active Teaching and Learning Approaches in Science, Sheffield 1992, which shows different social skills when interacting in a group. Can you match each cartoon with its correct comment of the following box?
A. Get one member of the group to write down the most important points discussed and any decisions that are made. B. Always let other people finish speaking, even if you wish to say something. C. Even if you feel shy you must take part in the discussion.
D. Remember that discussion helps you learn and other people learn. E. Be ready to change your mind if you are wrong. F. Use a paper and a pencil during discussions.
G. Remind the group if someone has said something important. H. Listen carefully to what everyone says. I. Do not show off.
J. If you do not understand anything ask for it to be explained. K. If you do not agree with someone do not shout at them. L. Explain things if two people do not understand each other.

Social skills in cooperative learning groups

  • Observing student interaction. Observing lies at the heart of teaching. In observing lessons that include cooperative learning, we focus on two broad areas: how well students are learning the content of the lesson and how well the groups are functioning. This role is tightly connected with assessment, and uses the same tools as assessment does. A simple checklist or a rubric to record observations may be enough, and leaving a brief comment after observing each team is the most immediate way to either praise the group members or correct possible dysfunctions. The checklist below may be useful for this purpose. Open this file to find this and other models of checklists and rubrics for teacher, peer and self assessment for cooperative learning Checklists and rubrics for cooperative learning.

Teacher observation checklist for cooperative learning

Roles and gambits for students

A cooperative learning role is an assigned action or task for a student to fulfill. Gambits are what students say or do to fulfill their roles. Cooperative roles facilitate and enhance autonomy. As students fulfill their roles, they are practicing important social skills. Since roles are rotated, students get the opportunity to play many different cooperative roles, and are introduced to a range of important skills. Further, the roles that students play enhance teamwork and make cooperative learning more productive. The following presentation gives you some clues how and when you can use roles in your cooperative learning CLIL lesson.

Roles in cooperative learning by joan_alberich

If your browser does not allow you to visualize this file, you can access it clicking here.

Kagan and his team have identified up to 12 possible different roles for learners in a cooperative learning class. They are listed in the following picture, which you can access as a PDF file clicking here: Kagan roles

Exercise: Questions for reflexion

  1. If you are about to prepare a cooperative learning task, in groups of 4, what four roles would you choose? Why?
  2. Could you invent a new role for your CLIL class? What gambits would this role use? Prepare a card for learners with information about this role and its possible gambits.
  3. How often do you think roles have to be rotated?
  4. Record one of your CLIL classes where you have used cooperative learning roles, and select the two best minutes that illustrate how your students have achieved more autonomy through them. Write a short essay explaining how this was achieved.


  • When using structures do NOT assign roles. Structures work better with simple, short tasks.
  • When assigning roles do NOT use structures. Roles work better when the group has to produce a final project such as a poster or presentation that takes more than 30 minutes of joint work.