Has the thought of working with a group ever made you cringe? Or have you ever been in a group with someone who just didn’t seem to be interested in contributing OR one person who seemed to take over?
We’ve all been there.
However, being able to collaborate and work effectively in groups is critical to success not only in school, but also in college and the workforce. Luckily there are a variety of cooperative learning strategies that can be applied to foster students’ collaboration skills.
What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative Learning is students working in groups or with partners to put together pieces of a puzzle, achieve a common goal, and learn from one another. It’s a powerful strategy to help students learn, get them out of the box, and get them discussing a topic at another level.
Research has shown that students who work in cooperative groups often perform better on tests, and are better critical thinkers. And, if that alone isn’t enough, it’s also said to improve students’ social skills, enhance oral communications, and even heighten self-esteem.
With cooperative learning, it’s also harder for students to fade to the background, and when their contributions are accepted and acknowledged, they are more engaged in the learning experience.
Putting it Into Practice
While there are a wide variety of approaches for cooperative learning, we’ve gathered together a list of nine popular options that you can quickly introduce in your classroom.
One of the most commonly used cooperative learning strategies in education today. First the teacher poses a question to the class, and then gives students time to think about their responses individually before having them pair up with a partner to discuss their response. Based on individuals’ responses and perspectives they could learn something new or be challenged with something they’d not previously considered, and have an opportunity to discuss it with their partner before the teacher calls the class back together for pairs to share what they’ve discussed.
Think-Pair-Share is very easy to use and can be a powerful tool for learning. If you're interested in trying it yourself, you can learn more in Atomic Learning’s Think-Pair-Share course.
- Prairie Fire
The Prairie Fire approach is designed to get your students talking in groups about more high-level questions. To start, gather students in groups of 3-5 before posing a question, then give the groups time to discuss and formulate a single group response to share. Next each group quickly shares their answer and learns the correct response before being instructed to continue their group discussion on what was shared, what they may have gotten wrong, and why.
This approach is a great way to help students practice the group processing component of cooperative learning, including incorporating feedback from other groups.
- Four Corners
Start by dividing students into larger groups – say where they stand on an issue, for example, and ultimately directing them to one of the four corners in the room to join a team with similar values, opinions, philosophies, etc.. Then pose a question to answer or assign a task for these groups of like-minded individuals to complete. After allowing time for discussion, have groups share out to the class.
Having a shared set of characteristics allows these larger groups to quickly focus on the task at hand by limiting potential conflict with their teammates.
JigSaw is a unique way to have students’ progress through a large amount of content by breaking a topic down into smaller pieces and having individual students within a group tackle those small components before teaching the rest of their group.
A lot of times this is used with larger texts, where an individual could be responsible for a page or an article or a chapter of a book. Each student is solely responsible for their portion of the text and needs to effectively communicate it to their peer group. Once each group has a grasp on the text and has had time to work through their thoughts on it, they rejoin the class for a larger discussion.
Alternatively, you could have individuals who are each responsible for the same portion of the text meet and discuss before having them join their original group to talk about the text as a whole.
- STAD (Student, Teams, Achievement, Divisions)
Often used as a review activity or as prep for an upcoming test, the STAD approach helps to recognize teams for supporting each other to do their absolute best individually. After a unit that has been covered, groups gather and teach a review with each other to try to get everyone to their highest amount of understanding. Then after assessing each individuals comprehension, the teacher acknowledges those groups that had the highest scores.
It’s important to ensure these teams consist of individuals with varying academic abilities. This pushes them to use their own strengths to help the team.
- Round Robin
Round Robin is an effective way to kick start team conversations. To start, pose a question that has multiple answers, then have teams rapidly respond with a student in each group recording all the answers—either until they run out of time or answers. This approach helps the team think as a group, and, not only is each student contributing, but one person’s answer can spark another’s and so on.
The lists of each groups responses can then be shared with the class for discussion on a greater level regarding responses the team may not have thought of, or maybe answers that don’t quite fit.
- Group Investigations
A group might start by brainstorming a project (and having it approved by the teacher), groups assign out portions of said shared project to complete together as a whole. Once complete, they present as a group to the class and share a single grade on the project.
Because everyone in the group shares the grade, this approach helps students better understand how each piece or gear in the group can work together to create a whole.
- Tea Party
Tea Party is a simple “line up and discuss” strategy. You simply have your class form two circles (one inside the other) so that each student is facing another, and then pose a question for them to discuss with the person facing them. After a set time period, have the outside circle rotate one person to the right before asking another question. Once a set number of questions are complete, have students return to their seats for a class level discussion.
This format is a great way to get learners out of their seats and interacting with others.
- Write Around
Much like the old ‘telephone game’, where a piece of information is passed from one person to another. As the title implies, this one is focused on writing. To start, the teacher provides a starting sentence or phrase, then each person adds a bit of text before passing the paper on to the next. It goes on until each person has added a piece to create a solid summary piece or a creative story.
Write Around is a great way to get your students thinking and working on creating writing, as well as get them comfortable working with one another.
Interested in learning more about this topic, including additional strategies? Be sure to check out Atomic Learning’s Cooperative Learning course, developed by experienced educator and principal, Ron Farrow.
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