Cooperative Learning: Strategies & Techniques

Instructor: Rebecca Harkema

Becca teaches special education and is completing her doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy that helps students work together as they learn. In this lesson, you will learn the benefits of cooperative learning, as well as helpful strategies that you can implement in your classroom to help facilitate cooperative learning.

Definition of Cooperative Learning

To be honest, I haven't always been a believer in cooperative learning. When I first started teaching, cooperative learning was one of those concepts in my textbook that sounded wonderful in theory, but left me with a lot of questions of how it would actually work in my classroom. In fact, it took a graduate school project to change my mind.

For this project, I was required to implement cooperative learning for a unit and take data on my students' progress. I went into the project thinking it would be a disaster, but was pleasantly surprised when the data showed that all of my students had made progress in their academic skills! Ever since then, I have been a fan of cooperative learning!

In cooperative learning, students work together in groups to complete a project or task. The goals are for students to learn how to contribute to a team, demonstrate individual responsibility, and also share accountability for the outcomes of the group.

Students who work together in groups to complete a project are participating in cooperative learning
Collaborative learning

Now that we know what cooperative learning is, let's take a look at some of the benefits of this powerful strategy.

Benefits of Cooperative Learning

One of the main benefits of cooperative learning is that it can positively impact academic achievement. However, academics aren't the only thing that get a boost! Cooperative learning can also increase students' self-esteem because students learn they are important to a group's success. It can also improve their social skills by teaching students how to communicate or work through conflict.

Additionally, students engage in higher-level thinking in cooperative learning. As students talk with others in their group, they hear differing thoughts and opinions. Finally, cooperative learning strategies allow for more students to be actively involved in the lesson, because each must contribute in order for the group to be successful.

With the knowledge of these benefits, let's discuss some cooperative learning strategies that you can use in your classroom.

Cooperative Learning Teaching Strategies

There are many cooperative learning strategies that you can implement. Here are three that can be used across subject areas and grade levels:

Numbered Heads Together: Divide students into groups of four or five students each. Within each group, students should count off. The teacher then poses a question for the groups to discuss together. However, the teacher calls a specific number from each group to respond, and that student is responsible for sharing the answer with the class.

Jigsaw: Divide students into groups of three to five students each. Label these groups as students' home groups. Within these home groups, give students a selection of text (for example, a portion of a chapter) that they are responsible for reading and learning. After students individually read their assigned selection, they meet with students in the other groups that were assigned the same material (called expert groups). During this meeting, students can help each other understand the reading or clarify the most important points. Finally, students return to their home groups to teach each other what they have learned.

Pair Checks: Divide students into groups of four. Within these groups, students pair off. The teacher poses a question or problem, and students work in their pairs to find the answer. After each pair has an answer, the group of four must work together to make sure they all understand and have the correct answer.

Along with implementing these specific strategies, there are helpful techniques that can help support cooperative learning in the classroom.

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