3 reasons you might be ready to bring cooperative learning to your class:
- Your questions are always answered by the same three kids who raise their hands. When you use a cooperative learning structure, at least 50% of your students are sharing answers at the same time. They also give students opportunity for think time so more students might feel ready to answer.
- The quiet or less confident kids never raise their hands so you don’t really have a feel for their strengths and vulnerabilities. Structures provide safe opportunities for students who don’t know the answers to learn from others and become experts as they go. The quiet students can share with partners or small groups, making it a safer place to try.
- You feel tired at the end of the class because you did most of the talking. Instead of you talking the whole time, you get a chance to walk around, check for understanding and coach as needed.
At the very bottom of this post, there is a video of Beth D., our resident cooperative learning expert, teaching a structure to her 2nd grade class, called “Head’s together.” Here are the steps for this structure. Underneath is the PDF you can print!
This can work for checking for understanding, but it is also a great way to have discussions and debates. Discussion questions can start in small groups and representatives from each group can share topics and arguments discussed. A quick way to do this is to assign each student at a table group a number. So, each table group has a #1, a #2 and so on. After students put their head’s together, announce the number that is sharing at each table: “Number twos, please stand behind your chair and share what your group discussed one-at-a-time.” Representatives are forced to summarize the group discussion, share varying opinions, and compromise on agreed-upon decisions.
When you watch Beth’s video, you will notice that she practiced this structure with very easy questions. Once students know the structure, you will be able to quickly access it without any prep ahead of time and use it for more complex activities.
Final words: If you try a structure, and it fails, please try again. These structures are so great for your students. It will take some practice and a few fails at first to figure out the management of it. Beth and I can help you if you want to talk through a structure or want us to come do it with you! We also have many of the Kagan books if you want to see more examples and go further with your structure practice.