Cooperative Learning Strategy: Fan & Pick

Are you looking for more cooperative learning strategies to add to your list? Check out Fan & Pick and why collaborative learning is such a powerful tool in the elementary classroom!
The cooperative learning strategy Fan & Pick is one of my students' favorites! It is easy to implement, completed as a team, and can be used with any content area or just as a team builder! As you know I am a big fan of group learning, and this definitely fits the bill.

About Fan & Pick

The collaborative learning strategy Fan & Pick is best completed in a group of four as there are four roles for students to complete. It can be done with groups of 3 or 5, but I really try my hardest to make groups of 4. This strategy is great for encouraging collaborative learning, because with the detailed roles assigned to students they each have "skin in the game" with positive interdependence. 

What materials do I need for the Fan & Pick strategy?

One of the things that I love so much about Fan & Pick is that you can use regular old task cards for it. You can also cut up a worksheet into individual questions or created your own "long" task cards with questions.

A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing materials for Fan & Pick is that you want to have an answer key available for each team of students to use. You also want to make sure that students should be able to verbally answer the question without having to write anything down. For example, answering a math fact such as, "What is the sum and 3 and 6?" would be great, a multi-step word problem that requires calculations and processing would not. 

Directions for Fan & Pick

Are you looking for more cooperative learning strategies to add to your list? Check out Fan & Pick and why collaborative learning is such a powerful tool in the elementary classroom! 1. Establish a group of four
2. Use the "role placemat" to assign roles to students.
3. Student A then fans out the cards and says, "Pick a card, any card!"
4. Student B chooses a card at random and reads it to the group.
3. Student C answers the question.
4. Student D either praises or coaches student C (if coaching I teach "tip, tip, tell" details below.)
5. The "role placemat" is rotated so that student A becomes student B and so forth, and the process is repeated.
6. Continue to repeat the process for your allotted time.

Of note: I usually have students place the card that has been answered back into the Fan & Pick pile to be used again. This allows multiple students practice with the same question. I do however tell students that if they draw the same card twice they have to choose a second one.

How to Differentiate Fan & Pick

The Fan & Pick cooperative learning strategy is a great activity to complete with any students, because of the fact that you can use any content. This means that you are automatically able to make the content accessible for your students by including questions that meet their needs. 

In addition to this, Fan & Pick is a great collaborative activity for ELLs because they have built in peer support. It is student D's job to be the coach for the student answering the question, and because they have the answer key they are the expert. They can provide support to other students through helping them to read the question as well as answer it. Additionally, but reusing the same set of hards throughout the 

The collaborative nature of Fan & Pick and the positive interdependence it builds is a great team building exercise that encourages students to work together towards their common goal.

Ready to go?

Are you ready to try out Fan & Pick with your students? Sign up below for a FREE "Get to Know You" Fan & Pick!  Once you are hooked on Fan & Pick check out these resources in my store. 

Cooperative Learning Basics

The basic ideas behind cooperative learning and cooperative learning strategies.
Cooperative learning holds a place near and dear to my heart. I know that I spend a lot of time talking all about my love of cooperative structures, but it recently occurred to me that I have never written about the basics of what makes cooperative learning what it is. It is not a bunch of cooperative activities that you throw at your students. It is not group learning or work. It is however a GREAT way to up student engagement and build classroom community all while getting in content rich learning.

Community Building

Cooperative learning strategies are an amazing way to build community within your classroom. Due to the inherent nature of cooperative learning structures, students work with many of their peers to accomplish a common goal. By working with one another students build relationships and trust that spill over into all areas of the classroom. The completion of a common goal also builds positive interdependence amongst students. 

Social Skills

Do you ever look at your students and wonder where in the world basic social skills went? Sometimes watching interactions between students makes me want to pull my hair out, because they are lacking the basic social skills that come so automatically, or so I thought. 

Cooperative learning structures build the social skills right in. Instead of having to give explicit instruction on how to greet another human being each day, students are able to practice greeting one another while staying engaged in the process of learning content. For example, every time students work with a partner during a cooperative learning strategy they greet one another, make eye contact, encourage one another, and thank each other for their thoughts. 

Now of course this all has to be modeled, but it is done within the scopes of the cooperative learning strategy and becomes automatic for students. Soon you will be thrilled to see your students taking part in these social norms both within and outside of cooperative learning strategies successfully. 

The basic ideas behind cooperative learning and cooperative learning strategies. Communication

The only thing that I love more than cooperative learning is hearing my students communicate their thinking, and it just so happens that they go hand in hand. Throughout the use of cooperative learning strategies students are able to explain why they think the way they do. Additionally, open yet structured communication give students the opportunity to "talk out" their thinking and develop their skills. 

This means that when you are completing a math task they are using math language, and the same for science, reading, or any other subject. I LOVE to hear my students explain their thinking to one another as I travel around the room. Some of my favorite classroom moments are lingering just within earshot of a table group trying to convince the one holdout of a correct answer during the cooperative learning activity showdown. In order to convince them they have to pull out all the stops, and they always impress me. 


Cooperative learning strategies ensure that all parties are held accountable. There is room within each activity for individual and group accountability because each student has their own job. 

Individual accountability is often given through peer feedback, by holding one another responsible for completing the task. Collaborative learning allows students to really feel the value of their peers which drives accountability. 

If you would like to learn more about using cooperative learning strategies in the classroom check out this post on Cooperative Learning Strategies to Check for Understanding, this one on Cooperative Learning Strategies for Test Prep, or sign up for our newsletter about cooperative learning

The Magic of Math Stations or Math Centers

Math stations or math centers are found in almost every classroom, but do you feel that you are getting everything they are worth out of them? Follow these steps to ensure that your students are engaged, learning, and mastering tough concepts through the use of math stations or math centers.
No matter what name you use (whether it be math stations, math centers, math games, or math printable activities) you are sure to love them in your classroom! As an upper elementary math teacher my students LOVED our math station rotations. It was a time when they were given a little bit of freedom, able to practice skills that they had already learned, use technology, and work with their classmates. I loved this time too, but I couldn't help but feel that this time wasn't being used to its full worth, and there was no time to waste.

When I first started using math centers I basically had a bunch of games that I had found in random locations to practice skills that we were learning. This worked. Kind of. Students often needed additional assistance which tied me up instead of being able to meet with other students to strengthen their skills. I instituted a peer coach they could ask which helped, but didn't really solve the problem.

I knew that something had to be done about the actual math stations that we were using. The hodge-podge of copies and downloads that I had cobbled together for each math concept was not doing the trick, and it was taking me FOREVER to find new math games as the year went on. When I really thought about it I knew that I needed many math stations that were targeted on one single math concept. I knew that the repetition would allow students to actually reach mastery. I searched and searched, but everything I could find for my students either didn't fit where they were at, seemed too much like a game and not enough like a learning activity, or would have cost me seven bajillion dollars to print. I mean, I love the colorful look of math stations, but the color ink is a no go in my book.

Math stations or math centers are found in almost every classroom, but do you feel that you are getting everything they are worth out of them? Follow these steps to ensure that your students are engaged, learning, and mastering tough concepts through the use of math stations or math centers.
That's when I sat down and started creating my own math stations. These stations were exactly what my students needed. They are ten centers or activities that can be completed independently, with a partner, or in a small group. This allowed me to be part of the rotation. Students that were struggling with a concept were able to complete the same exact activities, but did so with me as their guide so that I could clear up any misconceptions along the way.

After completing the first set of ten centers on place value I gave them a try. Each station has student directions and a recording sheet for accountability, so I didn't have to spend an hour going over how to use each center which has always been a time killer. I assigned partners/threesomes, handed out the materials, and let them go. I joined my group to guide my struggling learners, and I can honestly say it was a dream! It took about 15-20 minutes for each station to be completed, and we did two rotations that first day. That meant that within the week every student would have a chance to do all ten stations. Bingo!

Excited by the progress that my students were showing while working towards mastery with these stations I set to work on more. While creating them I focused on the BIG skills that we needed help with as well as making my life easier by creating them entirely in black and white so that I could print directly to the copy machine saving precious colored ink. I did print onto colored paper in order to keep things bright though.

These stations have seriously been a life saver for me. You can check them out here, or read on for a little something something later on. After seeing the success in my classroom as well as those of my colleagues I knew they were worth it and now have these stations available for second, third, fourth, and fifth grade standards.

Tips for Success

Regardless of what math stations you choose to use there are some easy steps to take to ensure that your math rotation time will be a success. 
    Math stations or math centers are found in almost every classroom, but do you feel that you are getting everything they are worth out of them? Follow these steps to ensure that your students are engaged, learning, and mastering tough concepts through the use of math stations or math centers.
  • Prepare all of your materials ahead of time. I know that this is a time investment up front, and can be frustrating. I prefer to laminate everything that I print, especially on colored paper, so that I can use it year after year. I also copy enough response sheets for all my students to have one from the beginning. I generally use gallon sized zip bags to keep all the materials in with sandwich bags inside for smaller cards or pieces. Some math centers also require manipulatives and I place those in the bag as well.
    The bottom line is you want students to have everything they need in order to complete the math activity without having to go on a search for materials. 
  • Set clear expectations. This is going to look different in every classroom, but make sure they are something you can stick with. For me, I have never been one for a silent classroom, I encourage conversation when it is on topic and meaningful. I model this type of conversation for my students from day one and encourage students to use their math talk. 
  • Choose partners or groups wisely. While it would be super easy to have students just choose partners and move on with life, this is where I really put my brain to work. Each set of math stations covers a different skill and means a reshuffling of partners because I want students to be at an independent level with that concept. If they are not at that level then they get placed in a group with me until their achieve independence. 
  • Incorporate cooperative learning strategies. Some students need a little more structure than just working together to achieve a common goal. One of my favorite strategies for partner work is Rally Coach. You can check out a post on it here
  • Use math stations as homework. Most math centers have a game-like quality to them which instantly makes them more engaging to students. Instead of sending home a packet of homework why not send home a math station for them to complete with their family? This allows families to get a glimpse into the classroom and sneaks in extra practice with important math skills. 
  • Keep your students accountable for their work by collecting response sheets or showing you some kind of artifact of their learning. I personally prefer to have students check their own work, so I provide the answer keys to them. It depends on the group of students as to how I do this though. With more trustworthy groups I leave the answer key in the bag with everything else and it is understood that they cannot look at it until they have completed the assigned math activity. With other groups I keep all the answer keys in one location in the room, usually a magnetic pocket on the whiteboard, where they can go to check their answers. This allows me to have a visual of who is going to look and when. I know that if someone gets up three minutes into a rotation to look at the answer key then something is up. 
  • Use your student experts. I like to mix up my experts depending on the topic, but I always have at least three students that are bestowed the power to help any group. Most of the time the question has to do with the math concept itself, but sometimes it will have to do with technology or directions. By having three student experts I only once in a blue moon have to leave my group to assist others. 

Why Not Worksheets?

I understand that worksheets are easier to manage, also hold students accountable by turning them in, and I mean they are tried and true right? Well, while I am no stranger to using worksheets and believe they have their time and place (usually accompanied by a cooperative learning strategy) I am not a fan of them for independent work. What happens when a student is stumped? Also, they lead back to that whole silent classroom thing that I am just not into. 

I would much rather have students engaged in their learning and working together on math stations. While they do require more prep on my part they also yield greater results. Additionally I may have the same student complete the same math center multiple times, but I would NEVER ask them to repeat a worksheet. That just seems cruel, but because of the game-like structure math stations don't inspire the same fear from students. 

Now What?

Well, I am guessing that you are itching to get your math game/station/center on! I want to make sure that everyone gets to see their students faces light up when they reach mastery through math stations, so I have a sample set available to you for FREE. This set is geared towards 4th grade place value standards, but will give you the chance to see what you are in for with any of these math centers

Get a FREE Math Station Set!

Check out what Big Ten Math Stations are all about!

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