Intro to the Co-Teaching Models: The Big Picture.

*Administrators and teachers: Download a printable version of this guide to share with your co-teaching staff or teammates here: Intro to Co-Teaching Approaches: The Big Picture

When people hear the term “Co-Teaching” they tend to picture two teachers standing at the front of the classroom, finishing the others’ sentences in a sort of instructional duet. This misguided concept of co-teaching may be one of the reasons many people decide that it’s just not for them. It’s extremely challenging to work in tandem with another adult, especially if you don’t have the time to plan a lesson down to the last detail. Just think about it: you wouldn’t perform a two person show without crafting your script and rehearsing it until you got the timing just right, would you? Neither would we.

Co-teaching like this (or Team Teaching) can certainly be effective at times, but it is not the only way to collaborate. So, what should two teachers be doing when they want to work together? Well, we’re glad you asked. There is so much to say about the infinite ways we can co-teach, but to get us started we are providing a quick visual introduction to the 6 most effective options for partnering with another adult. We’ve included maps and a brief description to help you envision each model. Marilyn Friend and her colleague Lynne Cooke have conducted extensive research on co-teaching in real classrooms and have concluded that educators are most effective at meeting their instructional goals and more professionally fulfilled when they use these methods of partnering.

We will go deeper into in these models in upcoming posts, but today we just want to give you a quick introduction.

Here are the models in a nutshell:

  1. One Teach/One Observe
  2. One Teach/One Support
  3. Team Teaching
  4. Alternative Teaching
  5. Parallel Teaching
  6. Station Teaching

Here are some examples of how they might look:

* Note: Large green rectangles indicate rugs and/or classroom areas. Blue squares indicate students sitting on rugs or at desks. Green circles indicate co-teachers.

One Teach/One Support: In this model, one teacher leads instruction while the other supports the students in various ways. The second teacher may or may not be a special education teacher, but either way, the supporting teacher can circulate the room, helping students as needed, or introducing modified or adaptive materials. (This can be misused as the One Teach/One Police model. In this scenario the supporting teacher spends most of his or her time reminding students to pay attention or threatening them to be quiet. We will discuss more effective ways to implement this model in later posts.)

One Teach/One Observe: In this model, one teacher leads instruction while the second teacher focuses on collecting data. Some things to observe for might include: Which students are/are not participating? How long can that one kid actually sit still before needing to move? How many girls vs. boys are raising their hands and how many of each get called on? There are endless reasons to collect data during instruction. When do you wish you had an extra pair of eyes to see what’s really happening while you’re teaching?

Team Teaching: Here teachers work together to present information collaboratively to the class. It can be a unique opportunity to model collaborative skills for your class. You might demonstrate how to play a two-person math game, fishbowl how to read with a book buddy, or ask students to solve social problems based on real scenarios in the classroom (“you stole my pencil!!”). As discussed in the intro, this model should be used thoughtfully, with careful preparation. If both teachers are not absolutely necessary to present the material, think about using another model instead.

Alternative Teaching: We like to think of this one as a “quick in and out” model. The majority of the class works with one teacher on a little warm-up activity or a brief review while the co-teacher leads a small group to prepare them for the lesson in a different way. The alternative group might get hands-on introduction to materials that will be introduced in the group lesson, a review of the previous day’s lesson, a preview of the graphic organizers or vocabulary, or it might be a chance to provide higher order questions for advanced students to consider throughout the instruction. Some teachers use this model to introduce “thought notebooks” to selected students. These notebooks can be a place for students to answer key questions during the mini-lesson, helping to keep them engaged and on-task with specific challenges during the lesson.

Parallel Teaching: This one is simple. Just split your class down the middle, but don’t level the groups. Each teacher presents the same lesson simultaneously to their designated group. This model is great for times when we want to give every student a chance to share. Introverted students are more likely to share in these smaller group settings. Lessons generally become more accessible and we can concentrate more on who gets it and who doesn’t. Some teachers express concerns about noise and space constraints with Parallel Teaching but these are actually questions about management. How can we teach our students to respect the need to be quiet for the other group? What transition routines must we plan for when one group finishes before the other one? We will address these logistics in upcoming posts too.


Station Teaching: This can be one of the most confusing models to envision. At first it looks like Centers, where students work in small groups on self-directed activities. The key difference is that teachers present lessons to two of the groups and remain with their groups while the others complete independent work. Then the groups rotate. All groups complete the same activities, but at different times. The groups are usually NOT leveled, and instead heterogeneously mixed, but the beauty of such small groups is that you can individualize instruction and provide adaptations and modifications for students as they rotate through your lessons. Some teachers choose to teach the same subject in simultaneous stations. For example, you might present two aspects of the editing process (punctuation, quotation marks, etc.) in 2 mini-lessons, while students critique one-another’s writing in a third station. Other classrooms use stations as an opportunity to teach different subjects simultaneously. You might present the math lesson to a small group while your partner teaches a reading strategy to the other group, and the third group works on independent writing. There are so many ways to get creative with Stations that we will are planning at least one or even two more posts to go more in-depth.

So there you have it! Of course there are millions of other ways teachers can work together, group our students, and utilize the power of two in the classroom, so this is just the beginning! As we said, we want to provide you with a range of new tools for you to add to your teaching toolbox. Check out the lesson planning tools under the Resources section on our website to help you plan and execute the best co-­teaching lessons. Pull them out as needed and you’ll create a masterpiece in your room!

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3 thoughts on “Intro to the Co-Teaching Models: The Big Picture.

  1. Pingback: All hands on deck | teaching2gether

  2. Pingback: Teaching models for two

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