Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small
teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a
variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of
a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for
learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn,
thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work
through the assignment until all group members successfully
understand and complete it.
efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so
that all group members:
from each other's efforts. (Your success benefits me and my
success benefits you.)
recognize that all group members share a common fate. (We
all sink or swim together here.)
that one's performance is mutually caused by oneself and
one's team members. (We can not do it without you.)
proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is
recognized for achievement. (We all congratulate you on your
Why use Cooperative Learning?
shown that cooperative learning techniques:
student learning and academic achievement
student satisfaction with their learning experience
students develop skills in oral communication
students' social skills
promote positive race relations
5 Elements of Cooperative Learning
It is only
under certain conditions that cooperative efforts may be
expected to be more productive than competitive and
individualistic efforts. Those conditions are:
1. Positive Interdependence
(sink or swim together)
group member's efforts are required and indispensable for
Each group member has a unique contribution to make to
the joint effort because of his or her resources and/or role
and task responsibilities
2. Face-to-Face Interaction (promote
each other's success)
explaining how to solve problems
one's knowledge to other
Discussing concepts being learned
Connecting present with past learning
3. Individual & Group Accountability ( no
hitchhiking! no social loafing)
the size of the group small. The smaller the size of the
group, the greater the individual accountability may be.
an individual test to each student.
examining students orally by calling on one student to
present his or her group's work to the teacher (in the
presence of the group) or to the entire class.
Observing each group and recording the frequency with which
each member-contributes to the group's work.
Assigning one student in each group the role of checker. The
checker asks other group members to explain the reasoning
and rationale underlying group answers.
Having students teach what they learned to someone else.
4. Interpersonal & Small-Group Skills
5. Group Processing
members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and
maintaining effective working relationships
what member actions are helpful and not helpful
decisions about what behaviors to continue or change
Activities that use Cooperative Learning
these structures are developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan and his
associates at Kagan Publishing and Professional Development. For
resources and professional development information on Kagan
Structures, please visit:
- Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is
assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his
group members. To help in the learning students across the class
working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is
important and how to teach it. After practice in these "expert"
groups the original groups reform and students teach each other.
(Wood, p. 17) Tests or assessment follows.
Think-Pair-Share - Involves a three step cooperative
structure. During the first step individuals think silently
about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up
during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step,
the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams,
or the entire group.
(Kagan) - Each member of a team chooses
another member to be a partner. During the first step
individuals interview their partners by asking clarifying
questions. During the second step partners reverse the roles.
For the final step, members share their partner's response with
RoundRobin Brainstorming (Kagan)- Class is divided
into small groups (4 to 6) with one person appointed as the
recorder. A question is posed with many answers and students are
given time to think about answers. After the "think time,"
members of the team share responses with one another round robin
style. The recorder writes down the answers of the group
members. The person next to the recorder starts and each person
in the group in order gives an answer until time is called.
Three-minute review - Teachers stop any time during a
lecture or discussion and give teams three minutes to review
what has been said, ask clarifying questions or answer
Numbered Heads Together (Kagan) - A team of four is
established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4.
Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer
the question so that all can verbally answer the question.
Teacher calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give
Pair Solo (Kagan) - Students do problems first as a team,
then with a partner, and finally on their own. It is designed to
motivate students to tackle and succeed at problems which
initially are beyond their ability. It is based on a simple
notion of mediated learning. Students can do more things with
help (mediation) than they can do alone. By allowing them to
work on problems they could not do alone, first as a team and
then with a partner, they progress to a point they can do alone
that which at first they could do only with help.
the Sage (Kagan) - First the teacher polls the class to see
which students have a special knowledge to share. For example
the teacher may ask who in the class was able to solve a
difficult math homework question, who had visited Mexico, who
knows the chemical reactions involved in how salting the streets
help dissipate snow. Those students (the sages) stand and spread
out in the room. The teacher then has the rest of the classmates
each surround a sage, with no two members of the same team going
to the same sage. The sage explains what they know while the
classmates listen, ask questions, and take notes. All students
then return to their teams. Each in turn, explains what they
learned. Because each one has gone to a different sage, they
compare notes. If there is disagreement, they stand up as a
team. Finally, the disagreements are aired and resolved.
Partners (Kagan) - The class is divided into teams of
four. Partners move to one side of the room. Half of each team
is given an assignment to master to be able to teach the other
half. Partners work to learn and can consult with other partners
working on the same material. Teams go back together with each
set of partners teaching the other set. Partners quiz and tutor
teammates. Team reviews how well they learned and taught and how
they might improve the process.
How do cooperative and collaborative
learning differ from the traditional approach?
Cooperative and collaborative learning differ from traditional
teaching approaches because students work together rather than
compete with each other individually.
Collaborative learning can take place any time students work
together -- for example, when they help each other with
homework. Cooperative learning takes place when students work
together in the same place on a structured project in a small
group. Mixed-skill groups can be especially helpful to students
in developing their social abilities.
skills needed to work together in groups are quite distinct from
those used to succeed in writing a paper on one's own or
completing most homework or "seatwork" assignments. In a world
where being a "team player" is often a key part of business
success, cooperative learning is a very useful and relevant
Because it is just one of a set of tools, however, it can easily
be integrated into a class that uses multiple approaches. For
some assignments individual work may be most efficient, while
for others cooperative groups work best.
Research suggests that cooperative and collaborative learning
bring positive results such as deeper understanding of content,
increased overall achievement in grades, improved self-esteem,
and higher motivation to remain on task. Cooperative learning
helps students become actively and constructively involved in
content, to take ownership of their own learning, and to resolve
group conflicts and improve teamwork skills.
What are the
benefits of cooperative and collaborative learning?
Benefits from small-group learning in a collaborative
Celebration of diversity. Students learn to work with all
types of people. During small-group interactions, they find
many opportunities to reflect upon and reply to the diverse
responses fellow learners bring to the questions raised.
Small groups also allow students to add their perspectives
to an issue based on their cultural differences. This
exchange inevitably helps students to better understand
other cultures and points of view.
Acknowledgment of individual differences. When questions are
raised, different students will have a variety of responses.
Each of these can help the group create a product that
reflects a wide range of perspectives and is thus more
complete and comprehensive.
Interpersonal development. Students learn to relate to their
peers and other learners as they work together in group
enterprises. This can be especially helpful for students who
have difficulty with social skills. They can benefit from
structured interactions with others.
Actively involving students in learning. Each member has
opportunities to contribute in small groups. Students are
apt to take more ownership of their material and to think
critically about related issues when they work as a team.
More opportunities for personal feedback. Because there are
more exchanges among students in small groups, your students
receive more personal feedback about their ideas and
responses. This feedback is often not possible in
large-group instruction, in which one or two students
exchange ideas and the rest of the class listens.
How can I use
cooperative and collaborative learning in conjunction with other
Since cooperative-learning techniques revolve around the use
of a particular tool -- small groups -- they can be used with
almost any other educational strategy.Many of the other teaching
techniques detailed in previous workshops include small-group
learning activities. The cooperative-learning techniques
described here will help you and your students make the best use
of these small-group activities.
Some types of cooperative learning (like those demonstrated
in this workshop) have been developed in concert with
the theory of multiple intelligences, so they work very
readily with this strategy. In small groups, students can share
their strengths and weaknesses and use the group activities to
develop a variety of their intelligences.
Cooperative activities involve the construction of new ideas
based on personal and shared foundations of past experiences and
understandings -- so they naturally apply some of the principles
constructivism. Learners also investigate significant,
real-world problems through good explorative questions, and as a
result these groups can easily be used for an
They can also help students meet
national, state, or local standards. Cooperative and
collaborative activities can have many different objectives,
ranging from mastery of basic skills to higher-order thinking.
Because the specifics of a cooperative-learning project depend
on the objectives of the particular teacher, the teacher can
easily orient the project toward meeting these standards.
Learning Structures and Techniques
NOTE: This content is taken
from materials presented at The University of Tennessee at
Chattanooga Instructional Excellence Retreat, May 1996. Barbara
J. Millis, PhD, Associate Director for Faculty Development,
United States Air Force Academy, Facilitator.
interviews can be used as an ice breaker for team members to get
to know one another or can be used to get to know concepts in
depth, by assigning roles to students.
assigns roles or students can "play" themselves. Faculty may
also give interview questions or information that should be
B for the specified number of minutes, listening attentively
and asking probing questions.
At a signal,
students reverse roles and B interviews A for the same
number of minutes.
signal, each pair turns to another pair, forming a group of
four. Each member of the group introduces his or her
partner, highlighting the most interesting points.
structures can be used to brainstorm ideas and to generate a
large number of responses to a single question or a group of
One piece of
paper and pen per group.
writes one response, and says it out loud.
passes paper to the left, second student writes response,
around group until time elapses.
say "pass" at any time.
when time is called.
The key here is
the question or the problem you've asked the students to
consider. It has to be one that has the potential for a number
of different "right" answers. Relate the question to the course
unit, but keep it simple so every student can have some input.
Once time is
called, determine what you want to have the students do with the
lists...they may want to discuss the multitude of answers or
solutions or they may want to share the lists with the entire
can be used as a brainstorming technique or as a technique to
generate descriptions and definitions for concepts. Focused
listing asks the students to generate words to define or
describe something. Once students have completed this activity,
you can use these lists to facilitate group and class
students to list 5-7 words or phrases that describe or define
what a motivated student does. From there, you might ask
students to get together in small groups to discuss the lists,
or to select the one that they can all agree on. Combine this
technique with a number of the other techniques and you can have
a powerful cooperative learning structure.
problem-solving can be used in conjunction with several other
cooperative learning structures.
participants brainstorm or select a problem for them to
numbers to members of each group (or use playing cards).
Have each member of the group be a different number or suit.
participant should be prepared to respond. Each member of
the group needs to understand the response well enough to
give the response with no help from the other members of the
individual from each group to respond. Call on the
individual by number (or suit).
One Minute Papers
Ask students to
comment on the following questions. Give them one minute and
time them. This activity focuses them on the content and can
also provide feedback to you as a teacher.
What was the
most important or useful thing you learned today?
important questions do you still have; what remains unclear?
you like to know more about?
You can use these
one minute papers to begin the next day's discussion, to
facilitate discussion within a group, or to provide you with
feedback on where the student is in his or her understanding of
Students pair up
to review/learn same article, chapter or content area and
double-entry journals for reading and reflection.
key points and look for divergent and convergent thinking and
prepare a composite annotation that summarizes the article,
chapter, or concept.
Structured Learning Team Group Roles
together groups, you may want to consider assigning (or having
students select) their roles for the group. Students may also
rotate group roles depending on the activity.
roles and their functions include:
Leader - The
leader is responsible for keeping the group on the assigned
task at hand. S/he also makes sure that all members of the
group have an opportunity to participate, learn and have the
respect of their team members. The leader may also want to
check to make sure that all of the group members have
mastered the learning points of a group exercise.
The recorder picks and maintains the group files and folders
on a daily basis and keeps records of all group activities
including the material contributed by each group member. The
recorder writes out the solutions to problems for the group
to use as notes or to submit to the instructor. The recorder
may also prepare presentation materials when the group makes
oral presentations to the class.
The reporter gives oral responses to the class about the
group's activities or conclusions.
Monitor - The
monitor is responsible for making sure that the group's work
area is left the way it was found and acts as a timekeeper
for timed activities.
groups of five) - The wildcard acts as an assistant to the
group leader and assumes the role of any member that may be
can be used as a way to get groups to discuss and review
material, or potential solutions to problems related to content
of a group generates a problem and writes it down on a card.
Each member of the group then asks the question to other
question can be answered and all members of the group agree
on the answer, then that answer is written on the back of
the card. If there is no consensus on the answer, the
question is revised so that an answer can be agreed upon.
puts a Q on the side of the card with the question on it,
and an A on the side of the card with an answer on it.
sends its question cards to another group.
member takes ones question from the stack of questions and
reads one question at a time to the group. After reading the
first question, the group discusses it.
If the group
agrees on the answer, they turn the card over to see if they
agree with the first group's answer.
again is consensus, they proceed to the next question.
If they do
not agree with the first group's answer, the second group
write their answer on the back of the card as an alternative
group reviews and answers each question in the stack of
cards, repeating the procedure outlined above.
cards can be sent to a third, fourth, or fifth group, if
cards are then sent back to the originating group. The
sending group can then discuss and clarify any question
variation on the send a problem is to use the process to get
groups to discuss a real problem for which there may be no one
on one problem they will consider. It is best if each group
considers a different problem.
process is used, with the first group brainstorming
solutions to a single problem. The problem is written on a
piece of paper and attached to the outside of a folder. The
solutions are listed and enclosed inside the folder.
The folder is
then passed to the next group. Each group brainstorms for
3-5 minutes on the problems they receive without reading the
previous group's work and then place their solutions inside
may continue to one or more groups. The last group reviews
all the solutions posed by all of the previous groups and
develops a prioritized list of possible solutions. This list
is then presented to the group.
One way to form
heterogeneous groups, is to use a value line.
issue or topic to the group and ask each member to determine
how they feel about the issue (could use a 1-10 scale; 1
being strong agreement, 10 being strong disagreement).
rank-ordered line and number the participants from 1 up
(from strong agreement to strong disagreement, for example).
groups of four by pulling one person from each end of the
value line and two people from the middle of the group (for
example, if you had 20 people, one group might consist of
persons 1, 10, 11, 20).
Some of the
common fears about working with groups include student fears
that each member will not pull their weight as a part of the
group. Students are scared that their grade will be lower as a
result of the group learning vs. learning they do individually.
One way to address this issue is to use a group activity to
allow the group to outline acceptable group behavior. Put
together a form and ask groups to first list behaviors
(expectations) they expect from each individual, each pair and
as a group as a whole.
Groups then can use this as a way to monitor individual
contributions to the group and as a way to evaluate group
Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning
The goal of this
activity is to generate discussion among student groups about a
specific topic or content area.
conducts a brief (10-15 minutes) lecture on a topic or
content area. Faculty may assign a reading or written
assignment as well.
then gives the students a set of generic question stems.
individually to write their own questions based on the
material being covered.
not have to be able to answer the questions they pose. This
activity is designed to force students to think about ideas
relevant to the content area.
should use as many question stems as possible.
learning teams, each student offers a question for
discussion, using the different stems.
What is the
main idea of...?
What is a new
How does this
relate to what I've learned before?
conclusions can I draw about...?
What is the
difference between... and...?
How would I
What are the
strengths and weaknesses of...?
What is the
Cooperative Learning References
Davidson, N., & Solomon, E. (1992). Handbook for the
Fourth R: Relationship Activities for Cooperative and
Collegial Learning . (Volume III). Columbia, MD:
National Institute for Relationship Training, Inc.
(1988). Cooperative activities in the classroom. Review
of Educational Research, 15, 225-250.
(1993). Collaborative learning: Higher education,
interdependence, and the authority of knowledge.
Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
(1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for
productive small groups. Review of Educational Research,
(1990, May). Cooperative learning and clooege teaching: Tips
from the trenches. The Teaching Professor, pp 1-2.
Better teaching, more learning. Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx
(1992). Cooperative learning (2nd ed.). San Juan
Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers.