Ultimate Cooperative Learning Strategies Guide

Everything you need to know about cooperative learning strategies from why they work to how to choose which one is best for your lesson!

What is Cooperative Learning?

Cooperative learning is a style of teaching that takes the teacher off the state and allows students to learn from one another. Students work together in collaborative groups through different strategies to reach a common goal. This positive interdependence allows students to hold one another accountable for sharing the work load and learning. The group nature of cooperative learning strategies allow many student to student interactions to occur at the same time instead of just one interaction at a time that happens when teachers call on a student. To see cooperative learning activities in action is every teacher's dream!

Cooperative learning is better than competitive learning at increasing student engagement and building relationships in the classroom. It is this positive interdependence that makes cooperative learning strategies so unbelievably powerful.

Research Behind Cooperative Learning Strategies

All cooperative learning strategies work under the principles that students of mixed abilities are grouped to work together towards a common goal, each student in the group is held accountable by their peers, student interaction is at high levels, there is equal participation amongst group members, and student engagement is high. These principles are at the heart of  every cooperative learning activity. 

Research supports cooperative learning in classrooms and cites results such as increased student engagement, higher levels of student achievement, increased growth in students, and an increase in reported positive interaction amongst peers. 

Scholarly articles about cooperative learning:

How to make cooperative learning strategies a part of your classroom that you won't know how you did without! In my own classroom I have seen the positive results of cooperative learning. For one thing, my students loved it. I saw their attitudes toward learning change, especially in my more reluctant learners. The positive interdependence and social interaction that cooperative learning strategies imbed also built a strong classroom community that made students look forward to coming to school. Engagement levels also instantly grew due to the increased number of interactions amongst students. The benefits of cooperative learning go above and beyond that of any of teaching strategy I have tried. All in all, I could never teach without using cooperative learning strategies again. Collaborative learning strategies really work.

Click here for more on the Key Benefits of Cooperative Learning Strategies.

Basics of Cooperative Learning Strategies

At its most basic level cooperative learning strategies are groups of students working together, but with structured roles in order to keep every member accountable. This individual accountability is what ultimately differentiates cooperative learning from group work. 

Cooperative learning also includes elements of community building and practice for social skills and communication. Read here for more on cooperative learning basics.

Cooperative Learning Strategies

When it comes to cooperative learning strategies the sky is really the limit. There are well established strategies as well as those that are being developed in classrooms at this moment. Each strategy serves its own purpose 

The jigsaw strategy is great for breaking down a large amount of new information and putting students in the position to teach one another. This cooperative learning structure is one of my favorites, as you might be able to tell by checking out these resources. To see a video of the jigsaw strategy in action click here

Rally Coach is a great cooperative learning strategy for partners and can be used with just about any worksheet that you already have. 

Think Pair Share is another great strategy, especially well suited for sharing ideas amongst students. Cult of Pedagogy has a great post about how to use it wisely. 

Fan & Pick is a great low prep strategy for table teams to work together. One of the things I love about Fan & Pick is the low prep element of it. You can use any set of task cards you already have or these pre-made editions.

Another great cooperative learning strategy for working in teams in Numbered Heads Together. I love this strategy for getting students talking using academic language and explaining their thinking. The BEST conversations amongst team members happen during this activity. We also use this strategy to play the Stinky Feet review game that is always a crowd pleaser.

If you are looking for a great cooperative learning strategy for students to share their work, experiences, opinions, or answers to short questions then give Inside Outside Circle a try. This strategy allows the whole class to participate and work with multiple partners all while getting in a little movement.

Cooperative Learning in Content Areas

One of the things that I love so much about cooperative learning strategies are that they can be used with ANY content area, so once you teach the strategy to your students you can carry it over into any area of the classroom. 

Some examples of using cooperative learning activities in content:

Team Builders and Class Builders 

Inherently, every cooperative learning strategy that you use is already a team or class builder, but there are some strategies that achieve this goal even more explicitly. The best part about these strategies are that they not only build community within the classroom, but remain content rich all the same. Talk about a win-win. Team building and class building can both be achieved while all the while staying on topic.


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