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

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