Cooperative Learning Tips

Cooperative learning can be a smooth integrated process that allows students to learn in small groups rather than in the large group format; however, poorly planned and executed cooperative learning lesson plans can quickly fall short of success.

These are five tips for cooperative learning that will help teachers develop a successful lesson.

Have specific outcomes clearly stated

Having clear outcomes from a cooperative learning situation will help the teacher have success.  Have specific tasks that need to be completed on specific days or by specific times during class.  Avoid open-ended sessions that allow students to become off task or to have conversations unrelated to the project.

Have specific roles for each group member

In a perfect world, all students would desire to engage in cooperative learning opportunities.  In reality, often there are students who allow others to do the work for them or who simply don’t engage in the assignment as well as others.  In contrast, other students take charge to the point that they may make a quieter student not take as active of a role in the assignment.  By creating specific jobs for each member to accomplish or have responsibilities for, it engages all of the students in the cooperative learning exercise, not just a few. For example in book discussion group, one student can be in charge of  leading the discussion on plot, while another is in charge of characters. Dividing the tasks will help for it to genuinely be a cooperative activitiy

Set a timer

To encourage students to stay on task and complete objectives in a timely way, a timer is one way to help students focus.  Regular kitchen timers, the clock on an interactive white board, or a digital timer work well. When the bell sounds students know that the time for discussion has ended or the time for working on a specific task is over.  Then the teacher can move on to the next phase of the assignment.

Prepare for productive noise

Cooperative learning at times can mean many students talking, reading or contributing all at the same time in different groups. Explain to students the difference between productive noise and non-productive noise.  Then allow students to engage in the groups.  It may mean that some students need a gentle nudge to be on task or some redirection by asking questions about their progress, but it should not be a time in which the students become non-productive.

Return to large group

When the cooperative learning groups come back to the large group setting, have a culminating task.  This could be combining the data discovered in the cooperative learning groups, having students speak to the entire group, or even teacher directed discussion.  Don’t let the steps gained by the cooperative learning exercise be simply dropped.  It is important to follow up to give the exercise merit in the eyes of the student.

Cooperative learning can be a great way for students to share and socialize together while completing a lesson.  When successfully planned and implemented, cooperative learning helps students to remember and integrate knowledge.