Alternative Teaching

Co-Teaching, Small Group Teaching

UDL 5.3

Alternative Teaching is a co-teaching model where one teacher works with a small group of students, as the other teacher instructs the large group. The small group lesson can take place in or outside the classroom and can focus on content that is similar or different from what is being taught to the rest of the class. The small group instruction provides an opportunity for the teacher to preteach, reteach, enrich, or assess specific skills. During planning, teachers identify learning objectives for both whole class and small group instruction, and combine their expertise to create engaging lessons targeted at student needs. Alternative Teaching allows teachers to provide greater differentiation and scaffolding for individual students or small groups in an inclusive classroom setting.

Implementation Tips

Teacher Roles
Alternate which teacher works with the small group and which leads the whole class instruction to ensure both teachers are viewed as equals by students. Teacher roles can be determined when planning based on each teacher’s areas of expertise, content knowledge, or interests.
Student Groups
Vary the purpose and composition of small groups. While small group instruction provides the opportunity to deliver targeted support, student groupings do not always need to be homogeneous or skill-based. For example, when students are completing a group project, one teacher might work with a different group each day to ensure they are on track and address any challenges or questions.
Options for Small Group Instruction
Think creatively about how small groups are used during Alternative Teaching. For example, this time can be used to administer individual assessments (e.g., DIBELS), conference with a student regarding behavior or academic goals, teach social skills to a few students, or catch a student up on a missed assignment.
Set aside adequate time to plan Alternative Teaching lessons and activities. Teachers should establish learning goals for both whole-class and small group instruction. This time can also be used to reflect on student data and design interventions. Consider using online tools (e.g., Google Docs) to support collaboration.
When To Use Small Group Instruction
Identify appropriate times for small group instruction that do not remove students from engaging, whole class activities or lessons that are building skills that will be necessary for future tasks. Consider teaching small group lessons when the rest of class is engaged in independent practice or review activities.


Reteaching Content
After reviewing data from a science quiz together, a teaching team notices that a few students demonstrated a poor understanding of several key vocabulary terms. The next day, one of the teachers takes the group of students to a table in the back of the class for a vocabulary review activity that involves matching terms with images and quizzing each other. During this time, the rest of the class works on a vocabulary enrichment worksheet with partners, as the other co-teacher circulates and provides support. After fifteen minutes, the whole class participates in a vocabulary quiz game in small groups.
Supporting Students at Different Levels
A fourth grade classroom has students reading at various grade levels. The teachers create groups based on students’ reading levels and plan lessons to address each group’s needs. During independent reading, one teacher circulates around the classroom and meets briefly with individual students to discuss the book they are reading, check for understanding, and assist if necessary. The other teacher pulls predetermined small groups and provides direct instruction on specific reading skills depending on students’ needs (e.g., fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, making inferences, author’s purpose, etc.).
Collaborative Feedback
While students are working on an argumentative essay in class, one teacher randomly selects four students to participate in a small group session. Each student reads a portion of their essay aloud to the group. The other students and teacher compliment the writer and provide feedback about how they can improve their essay. After all students have shared their writing, the teacher asks each student to identify one thing that they plan to work on as they continue their draft. Throughout the week, the two teachers alternate roles and select new students to participate in a small group feedback session.

Related Strategies