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Cooperative Writing – An Engaging Paired Writing Strategy

by Model Teaching | June 20, 2022.

Cooperative Writing is a paired activity where two students complete a writing task together. Cooperative Writing can be an excellent support strategy for struggling students, students with special needs, or English Language Learners (ELLs), because it can be an opportunity for stronger writers to help their peers who might struggle with writing. For example, ELLs can learn new vocabulary from native English speakers and improve their speaking skills as they communicate together about the given topic. Or, advanced students can coach each other on ideas for providing additional detail within their sentences. Students can share ideas and collaborate verbally on the writing before drafting, which takes some pressure off the more struggling writer. It can also help to build the confidence of both students, encourage the growth of social skills, and help to improve the sense of classroom community. It’s a simple, fun activity for students that maintain engagement throughout your lesson.

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Cooperative Writing

During Cooperative Writing, one specific strategy involves the teacher assigning writing tasks to two students, and they take turns completing a writing task. The teacher may often provide some specific instructions like

“Discuss in pairs _____ and then take turns responding to the prompt___.”

Students then take turns to record their writing, building on each other’s sentences or paragraphs. They can also use this time to check each other’s work.

Pairing students during cooperative writing can serve many purposes:

  • Struggling students paired with higher performing students can provide an avenue for the struggling student to learn proper grammar and vocabulary usage. In contrast, the higher performing student can practice reviewing writing rules with his or her peer.
  • Two higher performing students can challenge each other to include additional details, more complex vocabulary, or a more refined sentence structure.
  • Two lower performing students, with the help of the teacher, can take turns practicing writing in a safe place, with the teacher providing guidance and support as needed.

Consider these two scenarios, where students are completing the prompt:

“Write the directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

The teacher has chosen this prompt because she is focusing on sequencing skills and also wants students to practice using good details in their sentences.

Pair 1 is a struggling student and a higher-performing student. As they are preparing to take turns writing the sentences, they think aloud about the steps and discuss what should be written.

The struggling student begins and says, “Get the bread,” while the other students says, “Maybe you can also add the other ingredients we need, and use a word like ‘first’ so the teacher knows that’s the first step?”

The struggling student writes down his sentence, and the other student goes next. “I will talk about how you should pick up the knife next and scoop peanut butter out of the jar with it. Here’s my sentence”.

As he writes down his sentence, he asks the struggling student to read it. “Now it’s your turn! What step do you think comes next?”

They continue this way, taking turns writing down each step of the process, while the higher-performing student helps guide and coach the struggling student along the way.

Pair 2 are high-performing students who frequently need extension activities to challenge themselves. For this activity, the teacher has instructed them to ensure their sentences are incredibly detailed.

“Imagine someone from an alien planet reads your instructions and follows them literally. Make sure you explain every detail so the sandwich can be made properly!”

Student A says, “Ok, well, first we should list all the ingredients that the alien would need. We’ll need peanut butter, jelly, bread, and a knife.”

Student B stops her and says, “But how do we know that the alien will know what those items are? You should probably describe it in more detail!”

So student A instead writes, “The container with the red top is the peanut butter. Take the peanut butter and place it on the table in front of you.”

Student B then takes over and writes, “The container with the purple top is the jelly. Put the jelly beside the peanut butter on the table.”

They go back and forth a bit, taking turns writing down each step of the instructions, giggling at different points as they imagine how an alien might interpret the instructions:

“You can’t just say spread the peanut butter onto the bread! What if he spreads it on all sides of the bread- that would be a mess!”

They provide feedback and ideas to each other, strengthening their skills in providing accurate details.

While the activity varied slightly between these groups, they each benefited from cooperative writing by collaborating with each other and helping to refine ideas, while still each getting to take turns writing parts of the instructions.

Cooperative writing can be a great, engaging strategy for all students in your classroom! Think about your own classroom and how you can incorporate this fun activity into your next lesson.


Use the provided resource in your next lesson as you plan to implement cooperative writing, or edit your own based on the needs of your students. A completed sample is also provided for you below.

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Cooperative Writing Worksheet

Give this tool to your students to work on together. Have them read the prompt you choose, then let students take turns writing their response to the prompt.

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