10 Tips for Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a method where teachers place students in small teams with students of different learning levels. The object is for the higher-level students to help lower-level students improve their understanding of concepts being taught. In essence, each member is responsible for learning, as well as helping teammates learn, too. Students are to keep practicing concepts until the entire team understands and completes the assignment given. Here are some tips for utilizing cooperative learning in your classroom.

Tip #1

Playing teacher. Divide students into even groups of five or less. Give each student in a group a unique concept to learn. Then bring the group back together and let students teach each other what they have learned. Make sure that the entire group is learning about the same subject, just a different aspect of the subject. Test each group when the teaching session is completed within each group.

Tip #2

The Interview. Divide students into groups with an even number of students in each group. Each member of a group chooses a partner. Have individuals interview their partner by asking them clarifying questions. Now let the partners switch roles. Lastly, let members of the entire group share their responses as a team.

Tip #3

Catch a brainstorm. Divide students into teams of 4 to 6, and appoint one student on each team to be the "secretary." Give each team a different question that can have many answers. Now give each team a chance to brainstorm answers to the question, with the "secretary" writing down the team's responses. Have the students work in a circle, each taking turns to give a response, instead of having all of the students shout out answers to the "secretary" at once.

Tip #4

Number Frenzy. Divide students in groups of four. Label each student in a group as number 1, 2, 3, or 4. Ask the groups a common question. The group then works together to come up with the correct answer. Now you call out a number (between 1 and 4), and the person in a group that is assigned that number is to give you the answer to the question.

Tip #5

Group Grading. After taking a test, divide your students into groups with an even number of people in each group. Let students trade their test papers, so they will be grading each other. Now give each group a few minutes to discuss the answers that group members got wrong, so that those members can see why their answer was wrong and what the correct answer should have been. Wrap up the groups and answer any dangling questions not addressed in the individual groups.

Tip #6

The great debate. Cooperative learning can be used in any situation where you want children to debate over a concept being taught. For instance, when learning about the elections process, you can divide students into groups and have them hold a debate over what they would change about the elections process, what is working and not working with the current process, etc.

Tip #7

Listing activity. Divide students into groups of five or less. Ask each group to list words and/or phrases that describe what they are being taught, i.e., farm animals that are most useful. Be sure that every response is written down that each individual gives. Have each group discuss their list and then come up with the words and/or phrases the entire group agrees on. Later each group can get up before the class and discuss why they chose the responses they did.

Tip #8

The One Minute Game. Divide the class into teams of five or less. Have each group contemplate answers to these questions, giving them one minute to answer them:

  • What was the main thing you learned today?
  • Tell me two questions that you have remaining about this lesson.
  • What else would you like to know about this topic?

This is a great cooperative learning activity that helps students give you feedback about the lessons they learned.

Tip #9

Assigning group roles. Consider assigning each member of a group a role, so each member feels they are contributing to the group in a positive way. Roles could consist of:

  • Leader - The individual that makes sure everyone in the group has mastered the concepts being learned through the exercises.
  • Secretary - The person who records responses for the entire group.
  • Reporter - The person that speaks for the group when standing in front of the class.
  • Monitor - The person who keeps time for the group with timed assignments.
  • Manager - The person who fills in for any member of the group who is absent, and assists the leader of the group.

Roles can be switched within a group from time-to-time.

Tip #10

Ranking order. Determine whom you will put into groups by using the following exercise.

1. Present your students with an issue that is pertinent to a lesson. Have the students rank this issue by how they feel about it with 1 being in strong agreement and 10 being in strong disagreement.

2. Place a rank-order line on your whiteboard and record the students' responses on the line.

3. Now form your groups by pulling out one person from each end of the ranking order, and then two people from the center of the line.