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In the previous sections of this workshop, you were introduced to basic ideas about cooperative and collaborative learning. You have seen how they can be used in class to involve more students in active learning. In this section of the workshop, we will explore practical options for forming different kinds of groups for specific purposes.

Through tips, guides, and strategies from researchers and teachers, you will find a good range of group formations to choose from. Now that you are familiar with various group possibilities, you may wish to vary the nature and purpose of groups. You may wish to try the alternative formations highlighted in this section. By reflecting on your own experiences with group formats you have tried, you can determine their effectiveness for your class.

How do I get started using cooperative and collaborative groups?
What are the most effective small groups I can use for different learning objectives?
What are some challenges I might face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How can small-group projects involve parents and the community?
How can technology be used with cooperative and collaborative learning?

How do I get started using cooperative and collaborative groups?


Here is a step-by-step guide to using cooperative and collaborative groups in your classroom. It starts with the development of a good question and then moves through a cycle that allows the teacher and students to get better at working collaboratively over time.


Form a question. Excellent questions, as good teachers from the time of Socrates have known, form the bedrock for motivating small groups. A good question motivates students to ask, wonder, and discover in order to know. A quick checklist for small-group questions can help you get started. Good group questions should:

  • Work from the known to the unknown. When teams connect new ideas to their past knowledge and experiences, they draw from personal understanding for a deeper response.

  • Allow for distinctive roles for each studentFor example, one student may record, another ensures that all students participate, another organizes Internet searches, another gathers creative responses from all participants.

  • Encourage additional queries. We teach students to ask each other follow-up questions about each topic in order to tap into deeper responses. Students can learn to probe each other through sets of questions they compile. Ask them to hand in lists of questions they create and add your own queries to their lists.

  • Vary the techniques used for moving toward answers. These might include humor, group competition, or mock interviews to respond to real world problems.

  • Allow students to create visuals such as charts, boards, overheads, and diagrams that students can use for presenting their ideas.

  • Avoid jargon. The questions that motivate small-group inquiry will adequately cover content, address real-life problems, and range from lower-level facts and comprehension to higher-level application and critical thinking.

2 Identify goals. The second phase for successful group formation relates to creating goals for each group assignment. Foggy goals mean wasted time and poor motivation to learn.

Goals, or objectives, are performance-based and usually begin, "Learners will" (LW). Group objectives, clearly stated, motivate students and offer precise directions on the lesson content, so you will want to substitute vague words such as "know," "understand," "appreciate," or "realize" for performance words such as "list," "demonstrate," "describe," or "compare." Effective group objectives might include:


  • LW list and illustrate on a poster three foods that bears typically enjoy.

  • LW demonstrate ____________through a survey that determines ___________.

  • LW describe a business proposal for a bear conservation plan in state parks.

  • LW compare bear lifestyles in three countries.

You might identify one or two significant objectives for any group task. Time spent in identifying clear objectives is often time saved from reteaching content that could have been handled in group interactions.

3. Create rubrics 1. Rubrics provide another tool to guide students' expression of knowledge as they solve problems. They also help students and teachers to assess the group work accurately.


A group rubric that guides students' investigations about any topic might simply begin by listing areas of strength expected, such as:


  • Identifies relevant and meaningful problems

  • Creates effective responses or possibilities

  • Applies specific solutions from the text or Internet

  • Contributes data from interviews

  • Displays personal strengths and interests

  • Suggests future considerations about the problem

  • Illustrates communication about the problem

Armed with a probing question, clear objectives, and specific rubrics, you can then assign diverse tasks that enable students to express their unique methods of solving a real world problem. You may want to do this by challenging more of their brains' capacity to respond through multiple intelligence applications.
4 WIDTH=. Assign a specific assessment task. The fourth phase of group work is the assignment of performances that:

  • Match related learning approaches. So, if group members conducted an interview, they might be expected to provide a transcript of dialogue, compare two different perspectives, and so on. You would not expect multiple-choice tests to accurately assess knowledge obtained in original interviews, for instance.
  • Cover content. The task should illustrate students' active engagement with the text and other learning materials used.
  • Enable students to develop their interests and abilities. Students might complete interest inventories to discover their interests and then check to determine how they used their unique interests and abilities to explore questions.
  • Involve authentic events. Authentic tasks are those relevant to your students' lives and usually represent solutions to real-life problems.
  • Create meaningful challenges for students. Students often use their stronger abilities or intelligences to develop weaker areas. Cooperative and collaborative groups can use multiple approaches to solve any problem so that students broker their gifts and abilities to explore topics at a deeper level.

5. Reflect to adjust. Finally, the fifth phase of cooperative-group design ensures that teachers and students regularly reflect on group progress and make adjustments to improve outcomes. They look back over the small-group session through a series of simple questions.

In this phase, you ensure the regular adjustments that build more successful groups for each new task assigned. Following any group assignment, for instance, you and students might reflect on questions about content:

  • What main goal did the group cover today?
  • What facts did each member contribute? How?
  • What did the group not learn about the topic? Why?
  • What would the group do differently to achieve more?
  • What content did members find interesting?
  • Did members possess enough background knowledge?
  • What will future group goals be to ensure completion of its goals?

image Reflection questions about process might include:

  • How much time did each member spend talking?
  • Who talked most? Why?
  • Did members question each other and wait for responses?
  • How do members motivate each one to participate?
  • Did motivation efforts work? Why or why not?

During a collaborative project, students might also reflect on their attitude, work habits, and areas of need. Reflective questions about attitude include:

  • What was I particularly good at during group work?
  • How did I improve over the time we worked together?
  • What do I still need to work on?

Reflective questions about work habits include:

  • How would I describe my work and cooperation?
  • Did I contribute regularly as we worked together?
  • What learning goals did I set and which ones did I achieve during this time together?

Reflective questions about areas of need include:

  • What three areas still need development most?
  • What areas do I need help to improve?
  • What advice would (or did) other group members give me?

Workshop: Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
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