Strategy: Cooperative Learning

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The classroom is a place where students come together to not only learn academics, but also to socially interact with others. Learning is not done independently and alone. It is the result of the multiple interactions that students have with teachers and other students. Some of the most meaningful learning comes when the teacher facilitates the process of students acquiring knowledge and allows opportunities for students to work together (Brame, 2015). Working together encourages students to be flexible in adapting to new group members and to work through challenges in a productive way.
Group work can help build a sense of community in the classroom by reinforcing the interdependence and collaboration of class members. Even when there are challenges between students in a cooperative group, those challenges can provide opportunities for students to navigate the process of overcoming obstacles. Furthermore, having cooperative groups of students compete against each other can actually be more rewarding for students, rather than isolating. The introduction of competition can be used to promote deeper collaboration within the small groups and provide students with the platform to showcase their strengths (Emdin, 2016).
How Cooperative Learning Connects to CARES
If cooperative learning groups are well thought out by the teacher and used on a regular basis, students will be given the chance to work with classmates that they might have otherwise not sought out for any type of social interaction. People tend to be “pulled” toward others that look like them or that are perceived to share similar cultural backgrounds. While it’s important to allow students to work with others that they perceive as similar, there is great benefit for students socially and cognitively when they are encouraged to work with diverse classmates (Williams, 2018). Part of the process of maturing and developing is being able to identify oneself. Western cultures, like that in America, tend to value independence and uniqueness. In contrast, non-Western cultures value group interdependence and social relationships (Markus, 1991). Keeping this in mind, teachers should examine the cultural makeup of their classroom and provide opportunities that allow independence and group interdependence.

Some key elements to effectively supporting cooperative learning:

There are several considerations to take into account when having students work together.
Assign students to groups yourself rather than letting them do so. Students tend to choose to work with the same people if left to decide on their own. And all too often, the same student or students get left out from self-selected groups. This does not mean that you can never allow students to choose their own groups, but be purposeful about when you allow that to happen and take notice of which students tend to work together and which ones might not be asked to join any groups. Personalities should be considered as well as the skills and abilities of each student. Also consider the makeup of the groups you create and don’t always put the same students together in groups.
Groups can be as small as two students or as large as six. Creating groups larger than six can cause more management problems and be difficult to regulate and assist. Think about the activity you are asking the students to complete as well as the amount of time for completion and the overall goal when choosing group size.
Make the directions for the project or assignment clear and direct as well as the expectations for the behaviors you want to see from your students. Be explicit and connect your academic and behavioral expectations to your regular classroom norms to allow for an easy transition between activities. Provide time for students to ask for clarity when needed and readdress your expectations as necessary.
Be sure to include the amount of time students will have to complete the task. It is better to give less time than what you think students will need to complete a task and to have to give them more, than it is to give them too much time and have to take time away.
Prior to forming groups, decide what roles will be needed so that each group member has a specific responsibility. Roles will vary based on the size of the group and the activity. Some roles to consider would be group leader, note taker or recorder, timekeeper, materials manager, and presenter. More important than assigning the role, be sure to provide specific expectations for the student in each of the roles. This may change depending on the activity or assignment given, but for the most part, you should be able to re-use roles relatively easily among a variety of assignments. Think about which students have had a chance to try out each role as well. Giving students the chance to try out each role may help to build their confidence and may show students some strengths they didn’t know they had. Be mindful though of students who may have severe anxiety about some roles and prepare for this ahead of time. This is when you as the teacher may need to make a judgment call based on how well you know each of your students.

How To

How to Create Cooperative Learning Groups

Not all classroom activities or assignments are optimal for cooperative groups. However, different types of activities can allow for different types of groups. In planning for incorporating groups into your classroom, consider what parts of your lesson will provide optimal opportunities for groups. Think about the activity and the objective you are trying to convey with the group work you have chosen. Consider what size groups would be best and also consider which students you will group together. Think about how to change the way you format and organize groups of students in order to ensure that all students have a chance to work with each other at some point.

There are several types of cooperative learning strategies that can be employed in the classroom. Below are just a few examples. Choose one of these strategies or use another one that you have found.

  • Numbered Heads Together: Ask students to number off in their teams from one to four. Announce a question and a time limit. Students put their heads together to come up with an answer. Call a number and ask all students with that number to stand and answer the question. Recognize correct responses and elaborate through rich discussions (Kagan, 2009).
  • Jigsaw: Students are placed into “home groups” and “expert groups” and are each assigned a different topic within the same general topic. Students work on researching their topics with others who have the same topic (their expert group) and then return back to their home group to teach them about their topic. Together, all the pieces come together to form a complete product (Reading Rockets, 2015).
  • Turn & Talk: Sometimes called Think-Pair-Share. Students are put into pairs and provided with a question. Partners share their individual answers with each other. When time is up, the teacher calls on a student to share their partner’s response with the entire class.
  • Gallery Walk: This strategy can be used to allow students movement and the ability to collaborate about ideas and discussion topics. The teacher puts a different question or topic on a large poster paper. The poster papers are placed around the room either hanging on the wall or sitting on various tables. Each group of students starts at one of the poster papers and works together to answer the question or to brainstorm about the topic. After a predetermined amount of time, students rotate around to the next poster and add to what the other groups have put on the poster. This continues until all groups have made it around to each poster. Once they return to their original poster paper, groups can then choose the best response and prepare to share with the class.

Strategy Tool

Cooperative Learning - Strategy Tool
Use the Creating Cooperative Learning Groups strategy tool to help you determine the appropriate makeup of groups for classroom activities.


Cooperative Learning - Reflection
Take a moment to make sure your plan is going to work.

Goal Setting

Cooperative Learning - Goal Setting
Set a goal for implementing cooperative learning groups into your regular classroom instruction.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved from

Curwin, R. L., Mendler, A. N., & Mendler, B. D. (2009). Discipline with dignity: New challenges, new solutions. Moorabbin, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Emdin, C. (2016). Seven Cs for effective teaching. Educational Leadership, 74(1). Retrieved from

Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2009.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.

Reading Rockets. (2015). Jigsaw. Retrieved from:

Williams, J. L., & Hamm, J. V. (2018). Peer group ethnic diversity and social competencies in youth attending rural middle schools. Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(6), 795-823.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview