Cooperative Learning

Author: Gerard Alford   Date Posted:12 March 2021 

Unleashing the power of small structured group activities in your classroom!

Let’s be clear – group work and cooperative learning are NOT the same thing! 


Group work can be disastrous! Poorly structured group work can result in one student doing most or all of the work, yet can result in everyone receiving the same mark. Poor structure will allow some students to dominate and others to contribute little, which can quite quickly result in the collapse of the team dynamics. 


Sadly, some teachers experience this and decide not to instigate any cooperative learning unless they really have to.


Here is the good news! If you set-up your cooperative activities correctly you will limit the

chances of any of these issues occurring. Furthermore, it is one of the most powerful tools in a teacher’s toolkit. 


In terms of student achievement, cooperative learning is much more effective than individual or competitive learning (Hattie, 2009). It also assists with class cohesion, interpersonal relationships, social support and self-esteem. However, for it to work, it must be set-up correctly!


How do I set-up my cooperative learning activities?


Think of a team sport or cultural activity, such as rowing. From the moment athletes in a rowing shell hear the starting gun fire, their reliance on each person in that shell to do their job is tantamount to their success. From this point, they are engaged in a very tightly coordinated cooperative activity and their success will largely depend on how well they will work together. 


Set-up your classroom cooperative learning activities in the same way! There are 4 steps:

Positive Interdependence

The activity or task cannot be completed by one person. There is positive interdependence where the group must sink or swim together..i.e. it is everyone’s responsibility to learn the material for the group to be successful. There must be a clear and common accepted goal.

Individual Accountability

In a cooperative learning task, there is no place to hide as the task must involve an individual public performance.

Monitor the Groups

What percentage of students are actively engaged in the activity? How well is each group functioning? What cooperative learning skills, such as listening, compromising and negotiating, are lacking?

Equal Participation

The activity must be structured so that one person is not allowed to dominate. For example, if students were working in pairs, half the students (Students A) could be allocated one

minute to discuss the topic at hand with their partner. After one minute and at the signal from the teacher, the other half (Students B) have their allotted one minute. 



When you use the tried and tested cooperative learning tools, such as Think:Pair;Share, Round Robin, Topic Bingo, Judge Jury and Silent Card Shuffle you are unleashing the power of small structured group activities. Ensure they are part of your teaching repertoire!