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Where in the World Is Kagan

Using Cooperative Learning Structures for Effective EFL Teacher Professional Development

Ghada Awada & Ghazi Ghaith

To cite this article: Awada, G. & Ghaith, G. Using Cooperative Learning Structures for Effective EFL Teacher Professional Development. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #64. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

The past few years have witnessed numerous educational reforms in many parts of the world. While these reforms are somewhat grounded in the historical and political contexts of the countries that embarked on them, they are also characterized by reflecting the principles and methodologies of modern education with emphasis on active and student-centered learning. The reforms also share the common goals of addressing social and economic challenges as well as catering for the learning needs of the school-age learners in light of the challenges posed by globalization, knowledge economy, digital age, and the needs for sustainable development in the social, economic, and environmental domains. As such, one of the hallmarks that characterizes contemporary reforms is the aim to develop creative, motivated, and resourceful citizens who think critically, communicate effectively, and work well with others in their community and beyond.

However, it has been our experience that implementation of the new proclaimed reforms in Lebanon, as well as in other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, is hampered by many challenges. Chief among these challenges is the need for qualified teachers who can implement the new proclaimed curricula and who possess the requisite knowledge base, skills, and motivation for effective teaching. This entails knowledge of subject matter, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, and the implications of the psycho-social developmental characteristics of learners from various age groups. Specifically, due to mismatch between the outcomes of teacher education programs offered by colleges and universities in many countries, including Lebanon, and the requisite teacher qualifications and skills for implementing the new curricula, there have been many teacher professional development campaigns that aimed to enhance teachers’ readiness for reform implementation. In this article, we describe our approach to in-service teacher professional development and explicate with examples how Kagan’s cooperative learning (CL) structures and other CL structures served as an effective mechanism to prepare teachers, with specific reference to the case of Lebanon.

The Case of Lebanon

Back in 1996, Lebanon proclaimed and implemented through the Ministry of Education and the National Center of Educational Research and Development (NCERD) an educational reform that “espoused modern theories of foreign language acquisition and recent trends in curriculum design and teaching methodologies” (Shaaban & Ghaith, 1997, p. 200). The reform also resulted in devising and implementing an English language curriculum which originally reflected the principles and methodologies of theme-based, and more recently, competency-oriented instruction. These principles and methodologies call for student-centered teaching practices that provide maximum opportunities for meaningful input, frequent output, and a supporting classroom environment in order to promote learners’ proficiency and communicative competence in English-as-a foreign language, EFL. In addition, Lebanon is currently collaborating with the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations to promote human rights values at the personal and societal level through education. At the personal level, the focus is on developing learners’ knowledge and personal and social skills as well as fostering appreciation and understanding of differences and diversity. It also aims at building mutual respect for human dignity and shared values, encouraging dialogue, promoting non-violence in the resolution of problems and disputes, and combating all forms of discrimination and violence, including bullying and harassment. At the societal level, the aim is to foster civic responsibility and democratic practices based on respect for human rights and good governance (Awada, Diab, & Faour, 2017).

Approach to Teacher Professional Development

Implementation of the new curricula necessitated a relevant and high-quality transformative approach to in-service teacher professional development that veers away from the traditional workshop and gap-filling approaches to teacher training. Consequently, we aimed to ┬áconnect the underlying principles and methodologies of the new curriculum to the classroom realities and other contextual factors to ensure proper implementation. Specifically, we perceived in using Kagan’s cooperative learning (CL) structures an appropriate and proven mechanism to train teachers and prepare them to effectively implement the new curricula and assess learners’ outcomes. A basic assumption in this regard was that CL in general, and Kagan’s structures in particular, provides powerful and maximum opportunities for active communication, reinforcement, and cognitive work. This is particularly important in international contexts in which the teacher-trainees usually have little or no previous training in education as well as limited opportunities to use the target language of English outside their schools.

Another rationale for using the Kagan Structures is that CL enhances the effectiveness of teacher preparation, adds enjoyment to the learning experience, and improves teachers' self-esteem and preparedness to work with other teachers as suggested by Shaw (1992). CL also increases simultaneous classroom talk and the linguistic complexity of communication as learners engage in stating new information, giving explanations, offering rationales, and showing integration of information (Olsen & Kagan, 1992). Furthermore, incorporating CL into teacher education programs is consistent with the pedagogically-sound view that aspects of methodology are best delivered through “minds on–hands on” direct experience and demonstrations. In addition, CL is proclaimed as the instructional framework for curricular reforms in Lebanon and in numerous other countries, has much wider applications than many foreign language (FL) methods, can be used with larger groups of learners, and is not committed to a particular view of language learning or a particular syllabus (Ghaith, 2018; Ghaith & Shaaban, 1995).

Thus, we integrated training content (i.e., theories of second/foreign language acquisition, theoretical principles of the various L2 methods, the processes involved in the various language skills, guiding principles of assessment and evaluation, etc.) into various CL communication and mastery learning structures in order to create and implement training activities. These structures were pioneered by Kagan (1982) and are based on the principle of using a variety of generic and content-free ways of managing classroom interaction. Based on the four basic principles of positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and simultaneous interaction (PIES), the structures are classified into the categories of teambuilding, classbuilding, communication, critical thinking, and mastery learning.

The structures we used were from the various preceding categories, depending on training objectives. These structures proved to be relatively easy to utilize, yet powerful in actively engaging every teacher-trainee. Equally importantly, the structures enabled us to carry out an approach to training that emphasized “hands on application and light didactic teaching as we attempted to move away from theory without giving it up altogether” as well as “integrate both experiential practice and awareness raising theory as defined by Ellis 1990” (Ghaith & Shaaban, 1995, p. 26 ). This was possible as the teacher-trainees applied and observed the structures in action, and then they used them to create activities with the content of their curriculum and teaching context in mind. In addition, using the structures enabled sharing of information and eliciting questioning as well as light didactic transmission actions by ourselves as facilitators of the training. This was necessary in order to address emerging questions and ensure proper understanding of underlying theoretical principles and assumptions as needed.

Training Activities

The training activities described below were implemented in a recent workshop we conducted on the topic of assessment and evaluation in the English classroom. The activities are intended as examples of how the structures can be used in EFL teacher professional development. The table below shows the workshop learning outcomes, corresponding CL structures, and steps of implementation:

Learning Outcomes CL Structure Steps of Implementation

Icebreaking and classbuilding

Find Someone Who

  1. Each participant filled in the “self” column of a people hunt form. Questions related to age, favorite color, astrological sign, favorite sports, and years of teaching experience.
  2. Participants circulated throughout the class and to find a partner and asked questions for a match.
  3. Participants formed new pairs and asked questions trying to get the entire “friend” column of the people hunt form filled.

Acquire assessment and evaluation terminology

Timed Think-Pair-Share

  1. Participants thought alone for five minutes about defining terms such as assessment, evaluation, washback effect, norm-referenced testing, TOEFL, standardized tests, etc.
  2. Participants paired up with a partner and discussed their answers in Step 1.
  3. Participants were called upon to share their answers with class.

Note: Workshop facilitators and classmates filled gaps in responses and ensured participants’ ability to define all terms.

Explain assessment and evaluation guiding principles

Stand-N- Share

  1. Students silently read an information sheet that included the following important ideas about the guiding principles of assessment and evaluation:
  • Assessment and evaluation are essential components of the teaching-learning process. They should be planned, continuous activities that are derived from curriculum competencies and objectives and consistent with instructional and learning strategies.
  • A variety of assessment and evaluation techniques should be used. Techniques should be chosen for their appropriateness to students' learning styles and to the intended purposes.
  • Students should be given opportunities to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge, abilities, and attitudes in a variety of ways.
  • Teachers should communicate assessment and evaluation strategies and plans in advance, informing the students of the objectives and the assessment procedures relative to the objectives. Students should have opportunities for input into the evaluation process.
  • Assessment and evaluation should be fair and equitable. They should be sensitive to family, classroom, school, and community situations, as well as to cultural or gender requirements; they should be free of bias.
  • Assessment and evaluation should help students. They should provide positive feedback and encourage students to participate actively in their own assessment in order to foster lifelong learning and enable them to transfer knowledge and abilities to their life experiences.
  • Assessment and evaluation data and results should be communicated to students and parents/guardians regularly in meaningful ways.
  1. Participants discussed the above ideas in teams until each team member felt able and ready to share and discuss an important idea with the class, at which time they stood up.
  2. When all participants were standing, the trainer asked one participant to to share his/her idea. After the participant shared, those with the same idea sat down.
  3. Another participant was asked to share his/her idea. The procedure was repeated until all the students were seated.


We recommend using the CL structures described above as a mechanism for effective teacher professional development, particularly in EFL contexts characterized by the need to prepare teachers to implement new curricula and achieve the outcomes of reforms. We also recommend these and CL structures and approaches in their teaching given the proven efficacy and theoretical relevance of CL in promoting learners’ proficiency and acquisition of a language other than their own native language.

About the Authors

Ghazi M. Ghaith, Ph.D., Professor of Teaching English-as-a-Foreign Language (TEFL) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and conducts regular professional development workshops in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). His current research interests include determinants of EFL reading comprehension and the applications of cooperative learning in teaching EFL and professional development. Awards include the 2019 International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education (IASCE) Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions through Service and Activism.

Ghada M. Awada, Ph.D., has been Fulbright scholar, curriculum developer and coordinator, consultant to numerous international organizations including the World Bank and UNICEF, and university faculty member at the Lebanese American University (LAU) and the American University of Beirut (AUB). Currently, she is a research affiliate at the LAU Graduate Studies and Research Office. Her current research interests focus on peace and human rights education, cooperative learning, and the applications of technological innovations in reading and writing. Awards include the AUB Regional and External Programs Service Excellence Award (2019) and the LAU Teaching Excellence Award (2014).


Awada, G., Diab, H., & Faour, K. (2017). A call for curriculum reform to combat refugees’ crisis: The case of Lebanon. The Curriculum Journal, 29 (1), 43-59, DOI:10.1080/09585176.2017.1400450

Ghaith, G. (2018). Teacher Perceptions of the Challenges of Implementing Concrete and Conceptual Cooperative Learning. Issues in Educational Research, 28 (2), 385-404. http://www.iier.org.au/iier28/ghaith.pdf

Ghaith, G. M. & Shaaban, K. A. (1995). Cooperative Learning and In-service Teacher Training: A Suggested Approach. TESL Reporter, 28 (1), 25-31.

Kagan, S. (1992) Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers Inc.

Olsen, R. & Kagan, S. (1992) About cooperative learning. In C. Kessler (Ed.). Cooperative Language Learning A Teachers’ Resource book. Englewood Cliffs NJ., Prentice Hall.

Shaaban, K. A. & Ghaith, G.M. (1997). An Integrated Approach to Foreign Language Teaching in Lebanon. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 10 (3), 200-207.

Shaw, P. (1992). Cooperative learning in graduate programs for language teacher preparation. In C. Kessler (Ed.). Cooperative Language Learning A Teachers’ Resource book. Englewood Cliffs NJ., Prentice Hall.