The chaperonin GroEL binds a variety of polypeptides that share no obvious sequence similarity. The precise structural, chemical and dynamic features that are recognised remain largely unknown. Structural models of the complex between GroEL and its co-chaperonin GroES, and of the isolated apical domain of GroEL (minichaperone; residues 191-376) with a 17 residue N-terminal tag show that a Linear sequential sequence (extended β-strand) can be bound. We have analysed characteristics of the motifs that bind to GroEL by using affinity panning of immobilised GroEL minichaperones for a library of bacteriophages that display the fungal cellulose-binding domain of the enzyme cellobiohydrolase I. This protein has seven non-sequential residues in its binding site that form a linear binding motif with similar dimensions and characteristics to the peptide tag that was bound to the minichaperone GroEL(191-376). The seven residues thus form a constrained scaffold. We find that GroEL does bind suitable mutants of these seven residues. The side-chains recognised do not have to be totally hydrophobic, but polar and positively charged chains can be accommodated. Further, the spatial distribution of the side-chains is also compatible with those in an α-helix. This implies that GroEL can bind a wide range of structures, from extended β-strands and α-helices to folded states, with exposed side-chains. The binding site can accommodate substrates of approximately 18 residues when in a helical or seven when in an extended conformation. The data support two activities of GroEL: the ability to act as a temporary parking spot for sticky intermediates by binding many motifs; and an unfolding activity of GroEL by binding an extended sequential conformation of the substrate.