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Special Article

Kagan Structures in a Dual Immersion Classroom

How Kagan Can Help Dual Immersion Students

Aline Lourenci

To cite this article: Lourenci, A. Kagan Structures in a Dual Immersion Classroom. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #63. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Illustration of elementary school children sitting in a circle discussing lesson topic

A couple of years ago, before I began teaching a second language, I used to ask a question to my class. Most students would raise their hands, but a subset of students seldom or never did. Sadly, I ended up calling on and praising those who least needed practice and encouragement. I didn’t realize at that time that I was not engaging all my students, and I was creating very limited practice per pupil.

When I started teaching a second language, I learned multiple possibilities that I could use to increase practice over the content in meaningful interactions and thus improve students’ communication skills. I currently teach first grade in a Dual Immersion Elementary School. For us, students learn a second language with academic content for 50% of their day.

When we use [Kagan] structures—simple step-by-step sequences designed to structure students’ interaction—students each have an active role. Students who would otherwise not participate are now included, the tasks are more relevant, and there is greater interaction in class.

I learned Kagan Structures that made me reflect on how, as a teacher, I could influence my learners' motivation “by making the classroom a supportive environment with meaningful language, interest, and—most importantly—where students can experience success. This, in turn, can contribute to positive motivation.

As I used Kagan Structures, I noticed that ALL my students were becoming active and simultaneously verbalizing their ideas in the same amount of time it used to take me to get just one student to answer my question. But just using group work without a structure doesn’t work for those few who are hesitant to participate. When we use the structures—simple step-by-step sequences designed to structure students’ interaction—students each have an active role. Students who would otherwise not participate are now included, the tasks are more relevant, and there is greater interaction in class.

In a second language immersion setting, the goal is to have proficiency in a second language. Kagan Structures focus on the use of communication, equal participation, and individual accountability. These principles built into Kagan Structures boost students’ use of the target language and create greater interaction for all. That’s exactly what my students need.

With the structures, students share leadership roles so all students can have ownership of the work. Many structures include roles and responsibilities, and all students get an equal status and equal opportunity to take on those leading roles. Cooperative learning teaches students to provide formative feedback and to be process-oriented. Students get feedback and are supported by their peers while they are doing the work.

One good hint I have learned and use with my students is to teach them how to be a coach for their teammates. Coaching is part of many Kagan Structures, so it is important they know what good coaching looks like and sounds like. I teach my students that telling an answer is poor coaching but showing your teammate how to get an answer is good coaching.

When I use Kagan Structures, my students are busy working in their pairs or teams. I am then free to observe students, and, if necessary, intervene to help ensure effective work in each group. My students have become a community of learners.

I work with large classes. Like many teachers, a challenge for me was having a mix of students with different, specific needs. Large classes give students a place to hide. If we just do group work (just tell students to work together) without structure, students may actually learn less than in a traditional classroom, as few students will do most part of the work and those left out learn little, or even nothing.

Without structures that equalize student participation, some students may hide behind others and choose not to participate at all. Cooperative learning helps all students, including low-achievers, to be actively engaged.

Cooperative learning can fit in every part of your lesson—use it to assess prior knowledge, to review key points, and after modeling a skill to practice and perfect the skill. Just teach the structure; explain the steps; and model with students how to find partners, how to talk to each other, and how to praise (thumbs up, high-five in the air, great job, etc.). Start with a short amount of interaction time and gradually increase as students become more skilled working together.

I started my Kagan journey with the simple structure RallyRobin. Slowly I incorporated a few more structures. Here are some structures that I am using in my dual immersion classroom to boost student communication and interaction:

1. Match Mine – This is a great pair structure to develop communication skills.

Partners sit on opposite sides of a barrier to communicate, and with precision students attempt to match the other’s arrangement of the game pieces on a game board. First graders that are learning a second language need extra support, so I used basic words and had students draw it. I repeated this structure with math and language arts.

2. Find Someone Who – This is a fun, whole-class structure where students pair up to ask and answer questions about themselves or the content.

Students circulate through the classroom, forming and reforming pairs, trying to find someone who knows the answer. The teacher prepares a worksheet or question for students who get answers from as many different students as they can.

I like to use Find Someone Who to practice numbers and operations, shapes, time, and any new vocabulary conversation that they have been practicing, such as finding someone who has three brothers and a cat, who likes the number five, etc.

3. RallyCoach – This is a great pair structure to practice skills.

Students take turns solving a problem while the other coaches.
Example: I like RallyCoach when I have older grades in a special time of my day to help my students read numbers with fluency or do daily math worksheets.

4. Fan–N-Pick Pairs – This is a pair version of Fan-N-Pick that works great with classroom review questions.

Partner A holds question cards in a fan and says, “pick a card.” Partner B reads the question aloud, and allows some seconds of think time. Partner B answers the question. Partner A checks and then either praises or tutors paraphrasing the thinking. Students switch roles.

5. Team-Pair-Solo – This is a team structure designed to provide support to all teammates as they learn to solve problems independently.

On each team, students are organized in groups: one high achiever, high-middle achiever, low-middle achiever, and low achiever. The teacher gives a problem that is beyond the ability of the lower-achieving student. The teacher gives two jobs for each team: solve the problem and make sure everyone on the team knows how to solve the problem. Make sure to remind students how to best coach. When they complete the task, the team breaks into two pairs, they practice another problem in pairs, and finally students will perform similar problems alone, applying what they learned as a team. Students who initially couldn’t solve the problems alone now can.

Kagan training is widely used in dual immersion classes due to its high level of student interaction and the positive impact it has on students’ communication skills. Learners use the target language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the content. Cloud1 says that successful second language learners are more a function of students’ attitude toward the language than their verbal intelligence. Kagan Structures help students have a positive attitude toward the language as they use it in a fun and functional way.

In summary, all teachers want their students to be engaged. With engagement, teachers are able to accomplish the content and language goals that lead to growth and proficiency. Kagan Structures create that engagement for dual immersion classrooms.


1. Lightbown and Spada. (2006) Popular ideas about language learning revisited.
Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee, & Else Hamayan (2000). Dual Language Instruction: A Handbook for Enriched Education.