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Co-teaching Strategies for Educators at All Levels

Jul 26, 2023

When K–12 teachers join forces in the classroom, it can create an exceptional learning experience for students. Whether it's a pair of general education teachers, special education teachers, or a mix, various co-teaching strategies allow educators to combine their skills and expertise for an innovative approach to lesson plans and individualized support that helps students thrive.

There are six basic types of co-teaching including: One Teaching, One Observing; One Teaching, One Assisting; Parallel Teaching; Station Teaching; Alternative Co-Teaching; and Team Teaching. These co-teaching strategies and examples can be beneficial in a variety of circumstances:

Inclusive education: A general education teacher and a special education teacher combine forces to teach students with diverse learning needs. This allows teachers to focus on the best approach to working with students who may have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

English Language Learners (ELLs) and ESLs: For students learning English or whose second language is English, co-teaching allows teachers to provide grade-level curriculum that focuses on both language and content. 

Content expertise: Where one teacher may be lacking expertise in a subject matter, they may partner with a teacher with a strength in that subject matter, to the benefit of students.  

Supporting new teachers: Co-teaching supports new teachers by pairing them with experienced teachers, who provide mentorship and guidance to help them develop their teaching skills and navigate their new profession.

Large class sizes: Having two teachers in a classroom can provide extra support in reaching a larger student base. Co-teaching lets teachers divide responsibilities and offer more individualized attention to enhance student learning. It can also contribute to better classroom management.  

Transitions in education: Co-teaching can play a vital role during periods of educational transition, such as when students move from elementary to middle school or primary to secondary education. 

One Teaching, One Observing

In this co-teaching strategy, one teacher delivers instruction to students while the other teacher observes. This allows the observing teacher to study student engagement, collect data, and share feedback with the teacher who is delivering the instruction. 

One Teaching, One Observing has several benefits. It allows for focused observation and data gathering, enabling teachers to closely monitor student performance. This approach creates opportunities for targeted feedback and effective instruction planning. Additionally, it helps identify individual student needs so teachers can make necessary adjustments to enhance learning outcomes.

Due to the observer's primary focus on data collection, however, there may be little direct interaction between the observing teacher and the students during instruction. As a result, the observing teacher may miss opportunities to intervene or offer support to students while focusing on data collection instead.

Parallel Teaching

Parallel co-teaching allows teachers to split a class in half, with each teacher instructing half the class. This allows for smaller group sizes and more specialized learning. Teachers typically teach the same content simultaneously to the respective groups.  
Parallel Teaching has several benefits. It facilitates small-group instruction, enabling more student participation. Focused attention and interaction between the teacher and students allows a teacher to implement different teaching styles, which can be more effective with certain students. 

However, Parallel Teaching also comes with its challenges. It requires planning and communication to ensure consistent instruction among groups. More physical space and resources to instruct multiple small groups can also be a concern.

Station Teaching

Station Co-Teaching is another collaborative co-teaching model where the class is divided into small groups or stations with each teacher leading one of two groups. Students rotate through stations with a variety of lessons or activities and receive direct instruction and support at each station.

One benefit of Station Co-Teaching is that it allows for small group instruction and differentiation. It encourages student engagement and independent learning and lets students work at their own pace while receiving personalized support. 

On the other hand, Station Co-teaching requires careful organization and management to ensure smooth rotation among stations. Clear expectations must be set at the beginning of instruction for students to follow accordingly. 

Alternative Co-teaching

Small group instruction can benefit students who need a different teaching approach. Alternative co-teaching allows teachers to split the class into two groups based on learning needs. In this approach, one teacher instructs the majority of the class while the other teaches an alternative, modified version of the lesson to another group of students.  

Pros of Alternative Co-teaching include the ability to provide targeted instruction and support for smaller groups of students. This allows teachers to address diverse learning needs while providing the added benefit of lower student-to-teacher ratio. Alternative Co-Teaching does, however, require additional planning and preparation to create materials to instruct different groups. 

Team Teaching

With team teaching, educators can collaborate, share their expertise, and create an inclusive classroom environment that meets the diverse needs of students for an improved overall educational experience. Both educators take an active role in this teaching model to deliver instruction, plan, and assess students. 

The pros of team teaching include integration of expertise for a broader educational experience, and a variety of instructional approaches to reach more student learning styles which can lead to increased student engagement.  

Teach teaching cons include conflicting instructions from each teacher. This approach may also require more planning ahead of time to avoid duplication of efforts, which can challenge already-stretched teachers. 

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