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Cooperative Learning: Roles & Activities

Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

This lesson describes what cooperative learning is and how it can be used during group assignments. The types of activities that can be used with cooperative learning and roles are also discussed.

What is Cooperative Learning?

Have you ever been in a group assignment where it feels like one person is doing all the work? Sometimes this happens because one controlling person won't allow anyone else to do anything. Other times it happens when some group members won't step up and help. No matter why it happens, it is not the best learning situation. The person doing all the work may learn the material, but they did not learn anything about how to effectively participate in a group. The other group members who did not participate do not learn anything from the assignment. Using the cooperative learning technique can help solve the 'one person does all the work' problem.

The cooperative learning teaching strategy can be used with virtually any group activity or assignment. With this model, in addition to the overall assignment, jobs or tasks called roles are also given. Usually a cute name is given to these roles to excite students about the job and help them remember what they are going to be doing. The teacher may choose which student in the group does each task or allow the students to pick. Role assignments could also be given randomly.

For example, when assigning students to conduct an experiment in a group the teacher would first divide the class into groups and then give each student in the group a different role or job. One student in each group could be the 'equipment manager' and is in charge of gathering the supplies needed, ensuring that the supplies are properly cared for during the experiment, and returning equipment to the proper place after the experiment is over. The 'reading specialist' may be responsible for reading the directions to the group and ensuring they are followed. The 'data collection expert' could be responsible for recording the data for the group during the experiment. By dividing the jobs, each student is given a specific task within the bigger goal of completing the assignment. In order for the group to be successful, each student must complete his or her individual role.

Tips on Using Cooperative Learning Roles

When creating groups it is essential that every member of the group have a different role. That means the group size should only be as big as the number of jobs or tasks there are. In the example above, the groups could only have three students in each because there were only three tasks.

It is also important to explain that the student doing the role is in charge of that portion of the assignment, but that does not mean no one else can help. The 'equipment manager' should not be the only one cleaning the supplies at the end of the experiment. All group members should help, but the equipment manager is in charge of making sure it gets done correctly. However, remind students that they are ultimately the ones responsible for that task, so in the case of the equipment manager, they need to check that everything was put away properly and fix any problems. This prepares them for real life where the boss or manager is ultimately responsible, even if the task was completed by someone below them.

Sometimes it helps to make sure that the amount of work that goes into each role is even, while at other times it is helpful to make some roles easier to complete than others. This allows the teacher to differentiate according to student ability by choosing which person in each group completes a certain role. However, when assigning roles be careful not to give the same students the same type of roles each time. For example, don't always make one student the group leader. Other students need the opportunity to practice their leadership skills as well.

All roles should be necessary to complete the task.
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