Many hands make light work: Giving 2nd graders the skills to teach each other and collaborate


Leonardo Andrade



Columbian Elementary

Support students in working together and engaging in peer to peer learning

Learner Collaboration

Classroom Practice


Columbian Elementary teacher Leo Andrade is moving away from traditional classroom roles this cycle. He is emphasizing learner collaboration in his second grade class by providing his students with the skills to support and teach one another. Leo has structured his class so that during independent work time students are able to choose what assignments they’d like to work on and whether they’d like to work with peers or alone.


Leo also assigns several students the role of “Daily Five Captain”. The chosen students are the “go to” persons for the day, as other students are encouraged to approach them for help while Leo works with small groups. In implementing these changes, Leo hopes to see students collaborating with each other on their work and learning valuable skills pertaining to supporting and teaching each other. 

How it works

Leo has transitioned to having a reusable exit ticket taped to each student’s desk to remind them of the tasks they need to complete during independent work time. Students get to choose when they complete these tasks and how they go about it.

This student opts to work alone to complete her assignment. Leo gives his students choice about how they complete their work so that they understand what strategies work best for them. 

These students decided to work together and discuss the books that they chose with one another. 

During independent work, Leo pulls small groups of students. This allows for more individualized instruction and check-ins on each student’s progress.

  • Teach students the language they need to collaborate
    • Use modeling and sentence stems to guide and demonstrate respectful interactions
  • Label books with reading level to help students make wise choices
  • Create examples of assignments to guide students
  • Create laminated exit tickets with the activities that students will be doing
  • Fully explain all daily (“Daily Five”) activities to students
  • Practice daily activities all together as a class before doing them independently
  • Assign two students to “Daily Five Captains” so they can help other students
  • Use respectful language to help each other and ask for help
  • Independently work on daily activities
  • Go to the Daily Five Captains to get their work checked off
    • As a Daily Five Captain:
      • Answer questions and help other students
      • Check work to cross off activities on exit ticket
  • Make good choices about who to work with and where to work
  • Meet with the teacher to check-in on progress and do reading group
    • Students must read independently to be ready to do this

"Because of the dynamics in my classroom, I have different kids with different abilities and I like to think of them as a ‘rainbow of possibilities.’ So they all come from different backgrounds and have different knowledge that they bring."

-Leo Andrade

Initial Teacher Interview: The 'What' and the 'Why'

Leo discusses his vision for his classroom this cycle. He wants to promote peer-to-peer learning by letting his students teach each other and work together to share ideas and build new skills. During the “Daily Five,” students work on independent reading, writing, word work, tablet time, and language. They are able to choose when they work on each task and often in what format, as there are several choices for certain categories. They are able to work alone or with other students and get to choose where and how they work. 

Teacher Reflections: Successes and Challenges

Leo reflects on the cycle, noting that although he feels as if it has gone fairly well, he is not yet where he hopes to be. He thinks that students have experienced an increase in learner agency through their new leadership roles and their ability to make choices in the classroom. He is continuing to personalize the process for each student by identifying each student’s individual needs.

Teacher Reflections: Evolution of Teaching Practices and Advice for Other Teachers

Leo is clearing the way for student voices to be heard in his classroom. He intends to get to know all his students personally and academically in order to build community in the classroom and help them in identify their strengths and areas of growth. From now on, he is changing the Daily Five by asking students to provide more input on what they would like to learn and how they would like to learn it. Leo mentioned that observing another teacher has been an important step in the process of implementing personalized learning. 

If you want to try this….


Modify, don’t quit: If part of the process isn’t working, adapt it to better accommodate your students.
Provide students with the right language: Use sentence stems and modeling to demonstrate respectful language and help students engage in collaborative work.
Give students roles to play: By assigning students to the role of Daily Five Captain and giving them additional but temporary responsibility, Leo was able to increase learner interest and investment in the process. 
Try to vary which students are assigned a role: This allows more students to develop and practice their skills. 


Self-evaluate: If something isn’t working or feeling right, don’t get too caught up in sticking with your plan.
Provide structure: Give students a list of options to help balance freedom and classroom control.
See it in action: If another teacher is doing something similar, try to visit that classroom to observe and ask questions.
Build community: Try to do activities with the class to build students' skills for working respectfully in a team in order to improve student relationships and create a sense of community.

Coach's Reflections


Elisa Bowers, the Innovation Partner working with Leo this cycle, has already seen changes in Leo’s students, noting that they are more engaged in their learning and seem to enjoy directing themselves. She sees Leo’s willingness to experiment with new teaching practices as an asset in doing this work. However, she noticed the same challenge that Leo mentioned: Students need more support in working with each other respectfully. She recommends revisiting community-building techniques to help students feel more comfortable with Leo and with other students. From here, Elisa hopes to see Leo build more community in the classroom and continue to experiment with what works for his students.  


“He’s just so willing and ready to move and make changes for the benefit of his students--not just academically but for the whole child. I think that’s key to his work.”

-Elisa Bowers


Special Thanks to...

Columbian Elementary teachers Leonardo Andrade and Lindsey Speck, principal Jeni Rouse, Imaginiarium staff Elisa Bowers, Amy Burns, Sophie Gullett, Signe Hawley and the 2nd graders who are teaching each other as well as the rest of us.

A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, study and scale personalized learning.