Ideas & Strategies - Cooperative Learning

Managing the Classroom Environment

Focus on the Key Features (pdf) of cooperative learning.

  • Use routines and norms which create a safe and comfortable environment.

Participation is encouraged

All contributions are valued

Routines and expectations are well established.

  • Use specific student roles with interdependent responsibilities and make them accessible for ELLs. Roles and Prompts

Roles which are appropriate for the size of the group.

EXAMPLES: pairs -- speaker and recorder then switch; triads--speaker, recorder, materials; groups of 4-5 -- director, checker, recorder/reporter, materials

Roles which are appropriate for the developmental level and the language proficiency level of the group-

EXAMPLES: elementary/ beginner : director, checker, recorder, materials and safety

secondary/ advanced: -- facilitator, secretary, quality control engineer, etc...

Roles which are clearly posted in the classroom with a list of specific responsibilities and sample dialogue prompts

Roles with structured/practiced dialogue. Students use the roles to complete simple group activities until they are well versed. Then they complete more complex activities using the roles.

  • Group students with language needs in mind. Flexible Grouping Strategies
  • Use pairs and triads for younger or less proficient students and in the beginning for older students.
  • Limit group size to no more than 4-5.
  • Place students in groups for maximum language support.

EXAMPLE: If beginner, intermediate and early advanced students are placed in each group with one or two native English speakers, then homogeneous groups can be pulled during the cooperative group task time. For instance, the teacher can pull all of the beginner students and give them extra vocabulary support while the intermediate, early advanced and fluent students continue to work on the task.

  • Train ELL students for social interaction with and emphasis on basic conversational skills. Use Johnson & Johnson or other social skills training curricula. Social Skills Training

Resolving conflict

Accepting responsibility for personal behavior

Role Training-allocation of responsibility

Giving feedback or constructive criticism

Supporting learning of other students

Taking turns and sharing work

Appropriate ways to assist others

  • Plan carefully for cooperative activities in the heterogeneous classroom where second language learners work in groups with proficient speakers. Heterogenous Classroom Strategies
  • Mix groups of proficient and non proficient students
  • Carefully monitor status issues
  • Carefully monitor and correct the language use for feedback

Selecting Student Activities

Tasks may need to be scaffolded and you may need to provide practice of the prerequisite skills in order to build language fluency for ELLs.

  • Carefully select tasks which lend themselves to successful cooperative group work. Diversity tasks for interdependence.

Tasks requiring simple recall are not well suited for cooperative work

Tasks requiring detailed and specific answers may be best completed independently.

Tasks which involve discussion, debate, brainstorming, critical analysis, innovation, choosing and generating solutions, summarizing, reviewing and connecting ideas are great for cooperative group work.

Divide a task using a jigsaw technique, in which each member of the group has a only one part of the materials needed to solve a problem.

Group students to work on specific themes or topics in expert groups.

  • Preface group tasks with individual tasks.

Determine which social and academic skills are better learned independently before being used in a group. This will depend upon both the developmental level and the language proficiencies of the students.

When you pose a question for group discussion, provide one to two minutes for students to think independently and jot down their ideas before they begin talking. This extra wait time allows students who are more introverted to generate their own ideas and perhaps to translate from their primary language.

  • Ensure that the goals and objectives for the cooperative activity are clearly identified and written in language which ELLs can understand and check frequently for comprehension.

Walk around during the activity to listen to small group discussions.

Stop to work with students who seem stuck or reluctant to participate.

Giving positive group feedback or constructive criticism to keep groups focused.

Be a language model and provide needed vocabulary or group work prompts when necessary.

Ask students to repeat the directions in their own words if they seem confused

Sample Academic Cooperative Activities

Bring them back together for share out by groups.

Give Teacher Feedback about the activity, group work or discussion.

Ask reflective questions - How did each group work together? Which groups were successful? What worked? What didn't work? Training-allocation of responsibility

Provide an opportunity for a poll or vote about the results.

Make time for appreciations and compliments.

Lead a discussion about next steps.

Assess learning -- use a learning gauge: thumbs up, thumbs down; numbered ranking grid; etc...