How to Use Cooperative Learning for the Best Back to School Ever

How to Have the Best First Day of School With Cooperative Learning Start the year off right with cooperative learning. Cooperative learning strategies are a great way to build relationships and community with and among your students.
Back to school is a crazy time, and it is important that we do it right. We have a precious amount of time to build relationships with and among our students to turn our class into a classroom community. There is no better way to accomplish this than through cooperative learning strategies.

Why you ask? Cooperative learning activities allow students to work with multiple people through partners or teams, build positive interdependence through working towards a common goal, allow students to move around, and they are fun! I mean, what more could you ask for in back to school activities?

There are a million and one cooperative learning strategies out there, and they will all accomplish the goals of building community, but the following are my absolute favorite for back to school!

Find a Partner with Timed Partner Share

Okay, so this first one is actually a combination of two cooperative learning strategies, but they are both so simple and go flawlessly together that I couldn't help it!

To complete Find a Partner students first stand up and push in their chair if necessary. Then they look for a partner to make eye contact with. Once eye contact has been made they move towards their partner safely, and finally they form a partnership by high-fiving another student . It's just that easy! 

When I model this for students I make sure to point out that while you want to find someone that isn't already in your table team you also don't want to run across the room to your best friend. Instead, make eye contact with someone near you and partner up. I also model an appropriate high-five, because some of our students can get a little rough and no one has time for stinging hands and hurt feelings from an overly aggressive high-five. 

One students are partnered up you are ready for Timed Partner Share!

For Timed Partner Share the teacher first poses a question and students are given think time. It is very important that everyone is given this think time to form an answer before moving on. After a moment the teacher gives a directive as to which partner should answer first such as the person with the birthday closest to today, the person with the shortest hair, or the person wearing the most blue. The timer is then started for a set amount of time depending on how detailed the answer to the posed question will be. During this time only the assigned person is allowed to talk. When the timer goes off the other partner thanks their partner for sharing, the timer is reset and roles are reversed. 

You can repeat this process as many times as you would like and ask students to work with a new partner each time. 

This combined strategy is a great way to spend an extra few minutes during the first week, because it requires zero prep, can be completed anywhere, and allows students to work with many partners. Have a spare couple of minutes before special? Did you arrive to lunch just a hair too soon and your table is still occupied? These are the PERFECT moments to practice! 

Opinion Pieces

How to Have the Best First Day of School With Cooperative Learning Start the year off right with cooperative learning. Cooperative learning strategies are a great way to build relationships and community with and among your students.Opinion pieces is a great cooperative learning strategy for helping students to take turns. It goes like this:

Students are in teams, preferably of four. Each student is given a certain number of pieces. I would recommend starting with two. The pieces can be anything. I have used math manipulative blocks/cubes because I already had them around. The teacher poses a question and gives all students think time. Then students are able to respond to the prompt by placing one of their pieces in the center of the table and stating their answer. They can only respond as many times as they have chips. 

This cooperative learning strategy ensures equal participation among teammates and makes sure that no one is hogging all the response team as well as no one is sitting like a log just listening. Through this strategy students are able to practice taking turns, patience, active listening, and speaking. 

To extend this cooperative learning strategy the teacher can then ask random students to share something that one of their teammates said. 

Visual Telephone

We have all played the game of telephone as kids. You know, where one person starts with a phrase and whispers it to the next person. As it makes its way around the group it becomes flawed and is usually unrecognizable by the time it reaches the end. Visual telephone follows these same principals, but with a visual aspect. 

Students are in teams, preferably of four, and lined up facing the board. If you do not have a large whiteboard or chalkboard then individual whiteboards can be used. The student furthest away from the board is given a card with a simple drawing on it such as a flower, a house, a tree, or a star. This student uses their finger to draw the image on the back of the person in front of them. This is repeated until the image reaches the students closest to the board. This student uses their drawing utensil (dry erase marker or chalk) to draw the image on the board. 

Once all teams are done the first student reveals the original card and image. There is usually much laughing at how much the image has changed when being passed through the team. The student closest to the board goes to the end of the line and the process can be repeated as many times as you would like. 

When modeling this cooperative learning strategy make sure to show students your expectations for drawing on one another's backs including the correct amount of pressure and staying in the center of the back.

This activity is a great way to lead into a discussion about rumors and gossip. 

Want More Cooperative Learning Activities?

Are you ready for more cooperative learning, but don't have the time to prep endless get to know you activities? Check out his set of 10 Cooperative Learning Activities for Back to School that are ready to print and go! 
Included are ten different activities that are perfect for back to school, but great for community building all year long! These activities can be used over and over again to keep your community tight and positively interdependent! 

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