This article on effective co-teaching models is Part 10 of the Collaborating for ELLs Series.  

What do you use to carry your belongings from place to place?  

My most beloved bag is an Osprey day bag.  It’s big enough to carry by laptop, ipad, and gym gear. But when I return home to the U.S. during summer breaks, I have two hardcover Samsonite suitcases that can spin a full 360 degrees.  

Just like bags and suitcases, co-teaching comes in all shapes and sizes. When co-teaching, remember that form follows function.  In this article, I describe several forms of co-teaching and plot them on a continuum to demonstrate how instructional needs shape co-teaching.

What is Co-Teaching?

Co-teaching is when a group of students receive instruction from two or more teachers who have collaborated over the content and method of instruction.  We’ve already covered co-planning extensively in articles 4348, so this article will focus particularly on the forms of co-teaching.

Honigsfeld and Dove, authors of Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners, state that the main goal of co-teaching is, “[to] merge ESL and general-education instruction to increase the time ELLs are exposed to general-education curriculum and thereby strengthen their overall academic achievement” (2010, Kindle location 2489-2490).  

The greatest chance that students have for achieving academic success is when their teachers tap into each other’s expertise.  They can work to structure instruction in a way that maximizes student engagement with the content, with each other, and with the teachers.  

Forms of Co-Teaching

After analyzing the University of Virginia’s website on forms of co-teaching and the ones presented by Hongisfeld and Dove (2010), I’ve synthesized the descriptions of the various forms of co-teaching models and have placed them on a collaboration continuum, just like I did previously with the co-planning collaboration continuum.  

Successful collaboration depends on the ability of both the content and English language teacher (ELT) to contribute from their expertise.  The asset-oriented model of collaboration encourages both educators to lead instruction to all students based on their area of expertise.

It recognizes that content teachers can contribute skills and knowledge that are different from those of the ELTs.  This difference in skill sets is highly valued because students need both content knowledge and literacy skills development.

The degree to which both educators are allowed to lead instruction to all students based on their area of expertise.

Some models of co-teaching unintentionally devalue the ELT’s expertise, while others see ELTs as equal partners in instructing all students.  The following are the descriptions of each form of co-teaching sequenced from least to most collaborative.

co-teaching models Often referred to as the “One teach, One support” model, Lead-Support is essentially a co-teaching model where one teacher leads instruction while the other provides support.  Usually, but not always, the lead teacher is the content teacher while the support teacher is ELT.  The support comes in the form of working with one EL in particular, taking notes, identifying key content vocabulary, and/or assessing ELs’ understanding.  

This model doesn’t provide the ELT time to instruct all students, however, so the chances of making academic language explicit to everyone are slim to none. In the Lead-Support model, the ELT often feels like an overpaid, over-qualified teaching assistant passively waiting to teach but never actually receiving the opportunity to do so.  

I would use this model primarily if the content teacher is resistant to co-teaching.  When you have developed a rapport and the content teacher begins to trust and value the ELT, then the ELT can slowly introduce other more collaborative models.  Remember that co-teaching is less about the place we stand in the room and more about what we do while we’re there.Twitter

Sadly, many content teachers think that having an ELT in a class is collaboration. But true collaboration only occurs through collaborative planning – not simply by showing up to the classroom.

Lead-Support can be effective during co-planning if:

  1. the support is clearly defined and
  2. specific students are identified to receive assistance.

For example, a history teacher might want an ELT to work with a Korean Developing EL to help that student understand key vocabulary words for the unit.

However, Lead-Support should not be the only or even the primary form of co-teaching that occurs between content and ELTs.

co-teaching models

Team Teaching occurs when two or more teachers are leading instruction at the same time to the same group of students.  For example, Mr. D (a history teacher) wanted his students to present in front of the class, but the presentations were time-consuming. During our co-planning, I recommended using a simultaneous presentation model.  On the next day, I assumed the role of teaching this model to students.  

This form of teaching takes a significant amount of time to co-plan because each teacher has to know which part of instruction they’re responsible for.  However, this model explicitly values the ELT as an instructor and not an aide.  Also, all students are allowed to receive academic language instruction because the ELT is afforded the opportunity to teach.

The only downside to Team Teaching is that there is less differentiation because instruction is given to the entire class at the same time.

co-teaching models

Unlike Lead-Support and Team Teaching, Parallel Teaching is the first model on the continuum that organizes students into groups to receive instruction.  The content teacher and ELT teach the same content but to different groups.  

In Parallel Teaching, ELTs are valued for their expertise in literacy and language development, so they’re usually given a group of ELs. The benefit of this approach is that ELs will receive scaffolded instruction based on their language needs.  

For example, during Mr. D’s history class, we decided to split the class – he took the non-ELs, and I worked with the ELs.  We both used Mr. D’  presentation on Spanish conquistadores to teach our respective groups, but I modified it to scaffold language for the ELs.

The downside was that they were homogeneously grouped together with other ELs, so the social isolation from proficient English users might have had a negative effect on the ELs’ self-image.  Additionally, the English proficient students did not receive the instruction of the ELT, so their language skills weren’t challenged or extended in the same way.

In Alternative Teaching, the students are separated into two groups. The content teacher teachers the first deepening on their understanding of a particular top. The ELT teaches the second, smaller group, helping them access or relearn the content by reinforcing a concept or providing additional language support.

During Mr. A’s science class, I pulled aside a group of ELs to reinforce the basics of the circulatory system while Mr. A taught the nuances to the remaining students.

enrichment co-teaching example

The only downside to this model is that ELs are often the ones sent to the ELT to receive remediation instruction, and the content teacher is usually the one leading the large group.  The difference is often very clear. However, if this model is used to differentiate instruction, then students see both educators as equals – but with different roles.

For example, if the history teacher noticed a group of students needing additional practice in reading graphs, they can be sent to the ELTs for further support.

co-teaching model

Students are broken up into groups, which are usually homogenous with ELs in their own groups.  The groups rotate between the two teachers who teach different things.  For example, Mr. A’s once lead an experiment station while I taught students how to communicate their data using a graph.  

Alternative Teaching differs from Station Teaching because all students receive instruction from both teachers.  The English-proficient students still receive academic language instruction from the ELTs, and the ELs receive content-based instruction from the content teacher.

co-teaching model

The last and most collaborative form of co-teaching is Circuit Training.  This is when students are (ideally) in heterogeneous language groups and working collaboratively together.  Both the content teacher and ELT rotate between the different groups to focus on different things.  

The content teacher monitors students’ understanding of the content while the ELT supports and extends students’ engagement with the tasks and helps them communicate their ideas.  The ELTs’ expertise and ability to deliver academic language instruction is again affirmed in this, one of my preferred co-teaching models. 

For example, when it’s time to write a lab report in Mr. A’s class, I float around between table groups focusing on helping students write like scientists. Mr. A also shuttles between groups reinforcing the science concepts.

Circuit Teaching works best when students are engaged in project-based learning activities and lends itself to differentiating instruction.  The only downside to this method is if ELs are grouped together rather than mixed with English-proficient peers, they can feel more isolated like in the earlier models.


Co-teaching comes in different shapes and sizes.  It’s highly adaptable and can adjust based on the needs of the students and the receptivity of teachers. 

The rainbow of co-teaching models suggests that co-teaching is an academically enriching practice for students and teachers alike.  

It intrinsically suggests that both learning and teaching benefit from the involvement of many individuals based on their expertise.  As you consider how to integrate the different co-teaching models, remember to consider how collaborative each model is for an ELT and how inclusive it is for ELs.  Co-teaching should be an enriching experience, not a socially marginalizing one.

Next Post

In the next post, I’ll  share a framework for thinking about co-teaching.  The framework will help you consider grouping arrangements and offer specific strategies for ELTs as they co-teach.