Cooperative Learning has been proven to be effective for all types of students, including academically gifted, mainstream students and English language learners (ELLs) because it promotes learning and fosters respect and friendships among diverse groups of students. In fact, the more diversity in a team, the higher the benefits for each student. Peers learn to depend on each other in a positive way for a variety of learning tasks.
Students typically work in teams of four. This way, they can break into pairs for some activities, and then get back together in teams very quickly for others. It is important, however, to establish classroom norms and protocols that guide students to:
- Stay on task
- Help each other
- Encourage each other
- Solve problems
- Give and accept feedback from peers
Some Cooperative Learning Strategies
There are some popular strategies that can be used with all students to learn content (such as science, math, social studies, language arts, and foreign languages). However, they are particularly beneficial to ELLs for learning English and content at the same time. Most of these strategies are especially effective in teams of four:
1. Round Robin
Present a category (such as “Names of Mammals”) for discussion. Have students take turns going around the group and naming items that fit the category.
Present a category (such as words that begin with “b”). Have students take turns writing one word at a time.
3. Write around
For creative writing or summarization, give a sentence starter (for example: If you give an elephant a cookie, he’s going to ask for…). Ask all students in each team to finish that sentence. Then, they pass their paper to the right, read the one they received, and add a sentence to that one. After a few rounds, four great stories or summaries emerge. Give children time to add a conclusion and/or edit their favorite one to share with the class.
4. Numbered Heads Together
Ask students to number off in their teams from one to four. Announce a question and a time limit. Students put their heads together to come up with an answer. Call a number and ask all students with that number to stand and answer the question. Recognize correct responses and elaborate through rich discussions.
5. Team Jigsaw
Assign each student in a team one fourth of a page to read from any text (for example, a social studies text), or one fourth of a topic to investigate or memorize. Each student completes his or her assignment and then teaches the others or helps to put together a team product by contributing a piece of the puzzle.
6. Tea Party
Students form two concentric circles or two lines facing each other. You ask a question (on any content) and students discuss the answer with the student facing them. After one minute, the outside circle or one line moves to the right so that students have new partners. Then pose a second question for them to discuss. Continue with five or more questions. For a little variation, students can write questions on cards to review for a test through this “Tea Party” method.
After each Cooperative Learning activity, you will want to debrief with the children by asking questions such as: What did you learn from this activity? How did you feel working with your teammates? If we do this again, how will you improve working together?
A simple way to start Cooperative Learning is to begin with pairs instead of whole teams. Two students can learn to work effectively on activities such as the following:
1. Assign a math worksheet and ask students to work in pairs.
2. One of the students does the first problem while the second acts as a coach.
3. Then, students switch roles for the second problem.
4. When they finish the second problem, they get together with another pair and check answers.
5. When both pairs have agreed on the answers, ask them to shake hands and continue working in pairs on the next two problems.
Literature circles in groups of four or six are also a great way to get students working in teams. You can follow these steps:
1. Have sets of four books available.
2. Let students choose their own book.
3. Form teams based on students’ choices of books.
4. Encourage readers to use notes, post-its, and discussion questions to analyze their books.
5. Have teams conduct discussions about the book.
6. Facilitate further discussion with the whole class on each of the books.
7. Have teams share what they read with the whole class.
8. For the next literature circles, students select new books.
44 Benefits of Collaborative Learning:
1. Develops higher level thinking skills
2. Promotes student-faculty interaction and familiarity
3. Increases student retention
4. Builds self-esteem in students
5. Enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience
6. Promotes a positive attitude toward the subject matter
7. Develops oral communication skills
8. Develops social interaction skills
9. Promotes positive race relations
10. Creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning
11. Uses a team approach to problem solving while maintaining individual accountability
12. Encourages diversity understanding
13. Encourages student responsibility for learning
14. Involves students in developing curriculum and class procedures
15. Students explore alternate problem solutions in a safe environment
16. Stimulates critical thinking and helps students clarify ideas through discussion and debate
17. Enhances self-management skills
18. Fits in well with the constructivist approach
19. Establish an atmosphere of cooperation and helping school wide
20. Students develop responsibility for each other
21. Builds more positive heterogeneous relationships
22. Encourages alternate student assessment techniques
23. Fosters and develops interpersonal relationships