Key Principles
Step-by-Step Lesson Planning with Prompts and Tips
Lesson Plan Format
A Final Word

Step-by-Step Lesson Planning with Prompts and Tips

Without a clear plan, cooperative learning can appear daunting and exhausting. However, a well-thought out strategy can make it work in almost any classroom.

You will probably remember the five phases for cooperative learning described earlier, in the "Exploration" section. They are (1) forming a question, (2) identifying goals, (3) creating a rubric, (4) assigning a specific assessment task, and (5) reflecting to adjust.

These provide a good framework for your lesson plan. The examples below suggest how to begin.

Forming a question

Form questions that engage the students' interests and abilities. You may want to simply list key unit themes first, then for each add a good question that will motivate students to explore that theme. It is crucial that the introductory lessons for any new topic capture students' interests and motivate them to actively learn the material.

For example, here's a basic outline for a unit on graphs that demonstrates the importance of good questions:

 Overall Theme: Graphs Overall Unit Question: How can a graph help me defend my ideas? Lesson 1 Theme: Types of graphs Question: Which graphs work best? Lesson 2 Theme: Which graph? Question: Which graph should I use? Lesson 3 Theme: Who graphs? Question: How would I use graphs in different ways depending on who I represent in a debate? Lesson 4 Theme: Computer aids Question: How does a computer specialist create graphs? Lesson 5 Theme: Graphs tell my story Question: How would you show your story in a graph? Lesson 6 Theme: Accuracy Question: How accurate is accurate? Lesson 7 Theme: Defending Question: How would you defend your graph?

Questions are important, since themes themselves do not engage students as well as good questions. The best questions will be those that link students' interests and abilities to content goals and expected outcomes.

Students often enjoy creating their own questions after themes have been developed. This process can help them to ask significant questions and gives them ownership of the responses they create. An entire lesson may be devoted to formation of questions that can then guide students' work, helping them ask the right questions for any topic. Groups can list their questions on the board, and the class can choose the best ones from the questions listed.

Identifying goals

When student groups are given clear directions, they are more likely to arrive at your expected destination. The opposite is also true: without a clear map, they tend to go nowhere.

Let's say you engage students in a group debate on the controversial topic of clear-cutting and related logging issues.

Issues raised by student groups can form the debate question -- for example, "Is it acceptable to clear-cut steep hills in order to provide timber for nearby homes?"

Group One argues "yes" and shows how clear-cutting protects jobs, increases family income, and creates new homes for residents. Group Two opposes the statement and shows how clear-cutting contributes to the destruction of the ecosystem. Each group would research and support the claims they make. Since research shows that students learn most when they represent an argument with which they personally disagree, try to assign students to groups in a way that will maximize the chances of this -- for example, by asking students their positions in advance. Debates are a great way to help students hone their critical-thinking skills.

To ensure that students understand their goals, you may list the debate question on the board. Underneath, list the names of those defending side 1 and those defending side 2. Beside the names write "pro" or "con," so that the audience and judges also see clear goals for each argument presented. Create goals that motivate students to get involved.

Creating a rubric

Use rubrics that guide students to solve key problems together. Rubrics are simply criteria listed to ensure that students achieve your learning goals. They can guide groups or the individuals in a group, or both.

In the case of the debate above, criteria should be provided to debaters and judges. The winner of each debate will be the team that has mastered more criteria than the other team in both speeches and rebuttals.

Rubrics for the debate should be provided before students begin their work. Depending on the age of the students, you may want to include certain minimum requirements, i.e. 3-5 reasons, 4 pieces of evidence, etc. Your rubrics might, for example, include the following specific criteria:

Rubrics will vary according to your learning goals. But a simple rule of thumb in creating any rubric is to list specific criteria expected for mastery. Then lower the quality of each criterion to reflect a lower level of achievement. Rubrics provide a checklist for students to explore knowledge for deep understanding and for teachers to evaluate their investigations accurately and fairly.

The term "assessment task" refers to an opportunity for student performance that closely targets defined instructional aims and allows the students to demonstrate their progress and capabilities. Assessment tasks in cooperative groups might be one and the same as learning tasks.

Try to design assessment tasks that enable students to use all of their abilities. Using a multiple-intelligences approach, for example, assessments tasks can include verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, or naturalistic tasks.

On the topic of logging and clear-cutting practices, group assessments might include one or several of the following:

 (verbal-linguistic) Design a book showing a dedicated logger's and a concerned environmentalist's perspective on key issues. Or orchestrate a debate as above on the topic. (visual-spatial) Illustrate a poster to defend or oppose clear-cutting with researched data to support your claims. (logical-mathematical) Use statistics and numbers accurately to defend or oppose clear-cutting practices. (bodily-kinesthetic) Create and perform a mime to illustrate the key points in both sides of the clear-cutting debate. (musical) Perform original lyrics to illustrate clear-cutting issues and concerns. (interpersonal) Interview parents and peers on the pros and cons of clear-cutting. Draw accurate conclusions from their views. (intrapersonal) Describe in a journal your own views and reflect on how these are influenced by the views of others on the topic of logging and clear-cutting. (naturalistic) Collect data from nature to defend or oppose clear-cutting practices. Design a plan for logging that conserves and protects nature.
Each assessment task given to students requires clear goals and specific rubric criteria provided as guidelines at the start of their work.

After group work in any lesson, the students should know everything state exams would ask them, for instance.

As a regular check of students' understanding, you might also quiz them using exit slips. An exit slip is simply a brief note in response to straightforward questions. The slip is a "ticket" out of class and must be handed in before students leave. Student groups or individual students may complete exit slips. It may be a good idea to alternate between group and individual slips.

Your exit slip questions simply give you a bird's-eye view of students' understanding of main topics explored. An exit slip might read:

Use reflective questions that encourage regular improvements. Students should learn to reflect on their process and progress in groups by regular practice.

Debates, such as those presented in this workshop, tend to lend themselves to deep reflection. For instance, you might appoint student groups as judges for the debates. Using the rubric criteria, they can offer helpful suggestions for each side. They can suggest ways the debaters could have used criteria from the rubrics more to strengthen their positions. (It is usually a good idea to emphasize with students how to give positive comments about their peers' performances first and then to add specific suggestions for improvements.)

Reflections do not have to be long or complex, but reflection should occur on a regular basis. It may consist of a simple question or personal note following any learning task that indicates any way to improve future performances. Or, you could use a form for students to fill out, as in the following example:

 Group Work Assessment Sheet   by Anna Chan Rekate and Martha Ehrenfeld

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