A Teacher's Guide to Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning Definition

Cooperative learning is a method of teaching instruction that involves structuring classes into smaller groups to complete activities by working together. Students are often chosen strategically to ensure a range of skills, abilities, and learning styles exist within each group. This facilitates students' ability to learn from each other — one of the key benefits to cooperative learning. Cooperative learning theory suggests that this type of learning fosters collaboration and respect among students, as well as helps to enhance their communication and social skills. This instruction method can be utilized by teachers of all grade levels.

The Benefits of Cooperative Learning

The cooperative learning method of instruction can have many benefits for students, such as:

  • Improving self-esteem, mental and physical health, and social skills.
  • Acquiring and retaining more knowledge, which leads to better critical-thinking skills, academic performance, and increased productivity.
  • Strengthening students' analytical skills.
  • Helping prepare students for careers that involve teamwork by teaching them to seek assistance on tasks that are too difficult for one individual.
  • Instilling in students the ability to provide and receive constructive feedback to peers in a positive and productive manner.

The Challenges of Cooperative Learning

Although the cooperative learning method of instruction has many benefits, it does present some challenges. Teachers have observed that cooperative learning can become ineffective if utilized too often or improperly. For example, some students may feel too much pressure with this method, as they may be distracted by other students. Teachers will need to ensure that students stay on task.

The biggest challenge with the cooperative learning method is implementing it effectively. Teachers cannot just simply place students into random groups and assign work. They must team up students with varying skill levels who will be able to build on each other's strengths and weaknesses. They must consider a variety of factors, such as student relationships, behavior and any issues with attendance. Teachers must implement team activities that encourage collaboration among their students.

Cooperative Learning Strategies

There are many cooperative learning lesson plans and activities that teachers can take advantage of, such as:

  • Roundtable: Teachers will give students a category, such as characters that represent a particular theme in literature. Students will each have a turn to list relevant characters, and this can be extended by challenging students to provide further information or deeper analysis of one of the characters they listed.
  • Group Jigsaw: Teachers set up four or five research stations containing information on a topic. Students are grouped, with one member of each group visiting a different station. In the last few minutes of the activity they get back into their original groups to feed back on their information — completing the jigsaw!
  • Tea Party: In this approach, students are arranged in two circles facing each other. Students in the inner circle are paired with those in the outer circle. Teachers pose a question or provide a statement for the students to discuss. The students will then shift to the right so they have a new partner to continue the discussion. In this way they build up their knowledge over the course of the activity with different perspectives.

To learn more about implementing cooperative learning, view the following resources:

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