Cooperative learning has taken hold among many educators as a way to engage students on a personal level, encourage teamwork, and increase curiosity and cognitive skills.

The most popular of which is the Think-Pair-Share method, but there are others.

Cooperative learning strategies

Let’s take a moment to review such strategies and how they can be used in your classroom to increase your students level of interactive learning. You can intermix the strategies, and teachers often report that using a variety of different techniques yields the best results.

Feel free to experiment with these strategies and adapt them to fit the unique dynamic of each individual and unique classroom group.

Teamwork collaboration to build on main topics and lists

Brainstorming is always a great way to get students to actively work together, and this technique builds on those skills. The teacher supplies a topic for discussion and the students take it from there. They yell out the phrases and words that they believe best describe the topic at hand. It’s important that they feel comfortable with all answers, knowing that they can tidy up their lists after the initial phase. After the initial list is completed, have the kids break out into groups. (Another option is to have the already-formed groups work together from the start and generate the words and phrases.)

After the students have compiled the lists they can move on to organize the words and phrases, discarding those may not work as well as the others, and discuss why they chose the words they did. Allow the students to have the freedom to banter back and forth a bit, putting a time limit on their brainstorming session. Once the time is up, have a team representative read their words and phrases to the entire class, allowing the various groups to then discuss the similarities and differences of the words they chose.

Encourage the students to be patient with one another and really listen to what their classmates have to say. Let them know how to disagree respectfully and to put forth their ideas without denigrating anyone else’s. These are important communication and interpersonal skills that will help them is some many ways throughout their educational journey. Brainstorming is a wonderful collaborative exercise that fosters teamwork and a deeper understanding of the importance of working together.

Flash writing

At the conclusion of an important lesson, you can gain valuable feedback while also providing your students with a vehicle to work together and express their thoughts and opinions. At the conclusion of the lesson module, write a list of open-ended questions on the board.

Here are some examples:

  • What do you think was the most important part of the lesson?
  • Is there anything about the lesson that you found confusing or unclear? Do you have any questions now that we have completed the module?
  • Did you find a certain part of the lesson particularly interesting and want to learn more about it?

Form small groups for the children to discuss the three (or more) questions together and draw their own conclusions. Once they review all of their answers they can then work to gain consensus on which answers they would like to share with the entire class. This exercise helps to strengthen analytic and communication skills. They are practicing how to communicate their ideas and insights on a specific topic and how those ideas impact other aspects of the discussion. Children often lack the confidence to voice an opinion without first knowing that it is the “right” answer.

When you frame the discussion as topics that you’d like to know more about, it becomes okay to not have all of the answers upfront.

What do we have in common?

This cooperative learning strategy is a great way to build a more cohesive feeling in your classroom. Again working in small groups, have the students each take a paper and fold it into fourths. Label each section numerically, i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, at the top of each column. Provide question prompts that you write on the board, such as Do you have brothers and sisters? How many? What is your favorite food? Favorite book? and so on.

Whenever there is a similar answer from the students have them notate that on their sheet. So, if all four have one sister that question would go under column four. If only one student lists Huckleberry Finn as their favorite book, that would go in column one of their sheet.

Groups can discuss among themselves answers that they expected and those that surprised them. After allowing a sufficient amount of time for internal discussions have all of the groups come together to discuss the exercise as a class. This is a great way to highlight the many similarities that children have, and for them to understand that even if you disagree on some topics, there is plenty of common ground to build from.

Both sides

This is a great way to help students consider both sides of every argument and appreciate other people’s perspectives even when they differ from their own. Ask a question of the entire class, such as Should gym class be mandatory? or another question that is relevant to them.

Next, have the yays move to one side and the nays to the other. Once they’ve chosen their side, notify the groups that they will be arguing against their own opinion! You will likely hear quite a few groans when you make this announcement, but give the students a minute or two to wrap their minds around the idea before you give further direction.

For an even more insightful exercise, once they argue against their original position, have everyone switch sides again. After they’ve argued both for and against their original opinion, ask how looking at the topic from the other side has changed some of their ideas.

Graffiti from the group

This fun strategy combines art with teamwork for some pretty exciting results. Give each small group of students a large piece of butcher-wrap paper and a bunch of bright highlighters, markers, and pens. At the front of the class, write down a wide-ranging topic on the board and instruct the groups to write down their thoughts as quickly and creatively as possible. Give them a set amount of time, say 10 minutes, and then call time. Have the groups go through their sheets looking for differences and similarities and lead off a discussion centered around their answers.

These 5 effective cooperative learning strategies are just a small example of how you can use cooperative learning in your classroom to realize exciting results! Give your students the latitude to experiment with their interaction techniques while gently guiding them from the sidelines. You’ll be amazed by the wonderful group discussions that can develop when you utilize cooperative learning strategies.

Of course, every classroom situation is different and it makes sense to modify these techniques to fit that dynamic. The best thing about cooperative learning is that it takes on a life of its own as the students begin to interact and become more comfortable with this type of learning modality.

If you haven’t tried cooperative learning in your classroom yet, what are you waiting for?