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​​Humans are inherently social creatures; it is in our DNA to feel the emotions of others and connect with people through storytelling, listening, writing, reading, and sharing feelings.  

Socialization is an essential part of us and how we operate in the world. Humans are most comfortable when we’re connected to one another.  

Social interactions not only help support us in how we view the world around us, but they also allow each of us to catch glimpses of ourselves in the eyes of others.  

In fact, it is hard to get by in this world without socializing… which is why learning how to work with others from a young age is such a virtual part of having this human experience.  

Children are full of excitement and storytelling and are often eager to socialize and interact with other kids when they are learning. They’re full of ideas, motivation, creativity, and often bouncing off the walls with all this energy. When children are learning, they are at that developmental stage where they’re open to making new friends, telling stories, and sharing their minds with the world.  

As a teacher, you can leverage your students’ energy and need to socialize through various collaborative learning strategies to help them grow while also building a sense of teamwork and community in your classroom.  

It’s important to teach cooperative learning strategies to children at a young age, so that they can develop valuable communication tactics that aid them in socially adjusting to the adult world.  

As a teacher with young students, you may be wondering how to best equip your youngsters with the tools they need to be able to properly guide themselves in social settings with others. With some kids, this may come naturally. However, with others it may require some watchful guidance and skills on how to navigate and learn to cooperate with other students.  

This guide is here to provide teachers with an integrative approach to the different cooperative learning strategies and styles (for children and adults) and provide the best approaches to collaborative learning. 

 Related: How to Craft Magnetic & Compelling Learning Outcomes 

What are cooperative learning strategies? 

The essence of cooperative learning strategies is using effective grouping to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom. 

Cooperative learning strategies are usually implemented in smaller, more intimate learning groups. It is an interactive approach to teaching, as it combines learning with exercising social skills. This allows students to use their critical thinking abilities while at the same time being able to work on their team building skills.  

Our society values the attribute of being able to work and learn with others – as such, group work has become one of the most effective core learning philosophies in the classroom today. This is certainly not a new strategy; cooperative learning was developed by scholars between the periods of late 1960-1970’s. 

Cooperative learning strategies are founded on the pillar of cooperation, which can be defined as “a structure of interactions designed to facilitate the accomplishment of a specific end product or goal through people working together in groups.” 

This approach to learning emphasizes instructional methods where students work together in small, mixed-ability learning groups to ensure equal participation and individual accountability. 

Cooperative learning is a student-centered approach to learning, where students actively participate in their learning through problem solving with their classmates and taking ownership and responsibility when working as part of a team. 

The goal of cooperative learning strategies is to harness social interactions to benefit learners and improve their life experiences in and outside of the classroom. 

Benefits of cooperative learning strategies in the classroom 

The great thing about cooperative learning strategies is that this method of teaching can be implemented at any age. However, since there are many benefits to collaborative learning, it’s a good idea to start using these cooperative learning activities when your students are young and especially impressionable. 

When students have positive learning experiences, they are more likely to stay focused, productive, and retain information. Cooperative learning strategies promote students’ positive learning experiences in a variety of ways.  

The benefits of cooperative learning strategies in the classroom include:

  • More confidence in social interactions
  • Positive classroom relationships 
  • Improved student performance 
  • Higher levels of self-esteem
  • Increased motivation 
  • Improved behavior
  • Active participation 
  • Better attendance

There are many benefits of cooperative learning strategies, but the most important advantageous benefit may be the invaluable team building skills and collaboration abilities that are the result of working with others. 

Teaching students at a young age how to use themselves as their own tool for learning and share their findings amongst their classmates will set them up with a foundation for collaborative learning that will ultimately support their future endeavors. 

 What are Kagan cooperative learning strategies? 

Kagan cooperative learning is a popular instructional approach that emphasizes positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and group processing. 

This approach has developed over 200 learning structures that center around one key concept: student engagement.  

The Kagan method thrives around the full participation of each student. The goal is to have students participate frequently and equally in the classroom.  

The Kagan method theorizes that traditional teaching can lead to a disadvantage between high and low achievers; typically, only a few keen students participate in answering questions in the class, while everyone else is disengaged. The Kagan method intends to close that gap between students, ensuring that every student is actively involved in the learning process. 

Student engagement and interaction is what Kagan principles are formed around, however there is structure to these methods. Teachers are expected to test out different cooperative learning strategies in the classroom, engaging their students with a variety of different learning styles. The structures are content free and can be used at any learning level and ability. 

 The goal of Kagan learning structures is to boost academic achievement, create a more harmonious classroom atmosphere, improve race relations, enhance self-esteem, and promote valuable social skills and interactions.  

We have outlined the most beneficial cooperative learning strategies based on Kagan structures for learning below, and how to include them in your teachings.  

Related: How to Structure Your Course (Ultimate Guide) 

4 cooperative learning strategies 

There are 4 cooperative learning strategies that will prove to be successful when implemented in the classroom. These strategies facilitate collaborative learning, productivity, and socialization amongst classmates.  

Strategy 1: Jigsaw 

The jigsaw technique is an approach to collaborative learning that allocates learning goals to individual groups or people to tackle, so that each group or individual can master the material, and then return to the classroom and teach others what they know. 

 This method distributes bits and pieces of an activity among the class. With this cooperative learning activity, students can focus on their specific task and then collaborate with the rest of the group, each sharing their own research and coming together to solve the whole “jigsaw” puzzle.  

The jigsaw technique is a strategy that promotes teamwork – everyone needs to accomplish what they are responsible for, making students dependent on each other to succeed. This method of group work allows students to gather different parts of a project and then put together all the missing pieces once their work is complete. 

 This activity is beneficial to students as it improves comprehension, listening abilities, collaboration, and active problem-solving skills among students. 

 To start using this skill in your classroom, simply divide students into groups and then assign each group a component of the work so that they have their own specific task to focus on. Make sure you provide key questions that need to be answered, so students know what they should focus on and solve. Once everyone has done their research, each group can present their information and findings to the class. This way, everyone comes together to review all the learning goals.  

For example, if you are teaching your class about the different ecosystems, you would divide your students into groups and assign each group a different ecosystem to study (wetlands, forest, desert, grassland, tundra ecosystems, etc.…). Furthermore, within each group you can also assign each individual student a focal point to conduct their research. One student may study the types of animals, or the weather, or the vegetation that is present in their given ecosystem. Or you could let your students allocate this work themselves. Once everyone has done their research, each group would then present their findings to their classmates on their particular ecosystem. 

Strategy 2: Think-Pair-Share 

Think-pair-share (TPS) is a collaborative learning strategy where students are asked to first, think individually about a topic; second, partner with another student to then share ideas; and third, work together to solve the problem or answer the question from the assigned reading.

 This collaborative learning strategy promotes critical thinking, active participation through guided conversations with peers, and focuses attention to details.  

An activity such as TPS engages students in the reading material through social interactions, but also gives them the space to form their own viewpoints on the subject beforehand. It helps students be able to articulate their own ideas to their classmates, sharing their understanding of the reading material.  

To implement TPS in your classroom, simply choose reading material that involves critical thinking and create a set of questions that your students can answer once they have read the material individually. Make sure these questions target key content concepts.

 Give your students time to think about the questions individually and write down or form their own opinions on the reading material, then divide students into pairs to share their perspectives with their partner.  

This activity is a great way to encourage students to mingle with classmates outside of their own friend group, if you choose to assign partners to each student. They could also choose partners for this activity themselves or turn to the person beside them. Choosing their own partners may be more intimidating for younger students who are more reserved or shy… make sure that no one feels left out of this activity.

Monitor and support students as they work in pairs, going around the classroom and engaging with different groups (especially if they look like they are struggling to communicate with each other). At the end of the activity, you can reconvene as a class and share the key findings to make sure everyone is on the right track for the learning goals.  

TPS not only applies to reading comprehension, but you can also use this technique in any other subject. For example, to use this collaborative learning strategy in math, choose a problem that can be solved in more than one way, and pair students up to discuss how they would find the correct answer to the problem. This strategy is great to use when students are determining how to approach a math problem.

Strategy 3: Group Investigation 

The group investigation activity involves students working together collaboratively in small groups to examine, experience, and understand the topic they are studying. 

 This method is one of the more advanced strategies of collaborative learning, as students conduct investigations as key activities in this method. Students plan out the topics to be studied and how to run the investigation. They must cohesively work with their peers and allocate individual responsibilities within their group. 

 The benefits of the group investigation approach include positive interdependence, individual responsibility, personal interactions, collaboration skills, and group process.

 This is a student-centered learning model that encourages students to learn independently and collaboratively in a group setting. The role of the teacher in the learning process is to help facilitate active learning among their students and take a step back while students plan how to run their investigation and meet the learning goals. 

 There are six steps to the group investigation model:

  1. Determine the subtopics
  2. Plan the investigations
  3. Carry out the investigations
  4. Plan the presentations
  5. Create the presentations
  6. Evaluate the projects 

For example, as a teacher you would explain the subject matter that your class is to study, and students would then individually choose a specific subtopic they are interested in from the material presented. Then, students are organized into small groups based on the subtopic that they chose (ensure that all groups are of equal size and not too small or large).  

Students would start to map out the procedures, tasks, and specific learning objectives as a group, with the guidance of the teacher. 

 They would then create a plan to implement the learning goals within their group through a variety of activities and research from multiple sources.  

Students would then be prompted to analyze and evaluate their research and determine how this information can be summarized into a presentation. 

 They would move forward in creating a presentation as a group to be displayed or presented to their fellow classmates. 

 The last step in this method is to have the students and the teacher evaluate the contribution of each group member and their work as a whole. 

Strategy 4: Round Robin 

The round robin collaborative learning strategy is where students are divided into smaller learning groups to discuss their thoughts and opinions on a topic without elaborating, explaining, or questioning ideas.  

This method is great for quick brainstorming, and to ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard. Group members take turns responding to a question with a word, phrase, or short statement. Students then go around the circle quickly sharing their answers one at a time until all students have had the opportunity to speak. 

The round robin collaborative learning technique is good to use when you want students to think fast and elicit quick responses regarding their initial thoughts on a subject. No single person can dominate the conversation, which ensures that everyone has the chance to speak (even the quieter students who normally wouldn’t raise their hand to say anything).  

This activity can be done with any topic and at any learning level. This strategy promotes quick thinking, active engagement, public speaking skills, and self-expression.  

To implement this activity, simply divide your students into smaller groups and have them sit in a circle. Pose a problem or a question about a topic, such as “What do you know about the different ecosystems…?” and have your students go around in the circle saying the first thing that pops into their minds when hearing the question.  

These are short, sentence-long responses, and students are expected to go around in the circle and generate as many quick responses as they can think of in a set amount of time. At the end of the round robin session the teacher and students can then share their discoveries with the rest of the class.  

A key point to note for this activity is to make sure that students aren’t judged or criticized for their responses by others – this should be a positive and inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome to share their thoughts, no matter if they are incorrect or not. 

Implementing cooperative learning strategies in the classroom 

Now that we have gone over some of the best cooperative learning strategies for your students to practice, it’s time to bring them to life in your classroom:

  • When introducing cooperative learning strategies to your classroom, remember to first set a positive atmosphere for your students, so that they feel comfortable coming to you with any problems or concerns.
  • When you create an uplifting learning environment, it will encourage everyone to speak up and to voice their own opinions, staying engaged in the classroom. It also builds trust between the teacher and the students.
  • Establish some classroom rules to make sure students stay on track and that they are respecting each other. Group work involves putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, and possibly stepping outside your comfort zone… you will want to ensure that students feel comfortable and appreciated in their learning environment.
  • Make sure you clearly outline what each students’ role is in the different cooperative learning activities. Set expectations of what is required from every student and establish what the group learning goals are. This will ensure that students don’t go off topic and are focused on the task at hand. 
  • Decide what kinds of assessments (if any) that you want to include in the different cooperative learning strategies, and let your students know how you will be evaluating them in these activities.

Importance of ongoing collaboration and learning 

Traditional teaching methods are lacking in the ability to engage every student, which makes the ongoing practice of collaborative learning highly imperative to teaching in the classroom today.  

“When students are actively engaged, they pay attention, they’re motivated, they learn more, and the learning sticks.” – Dr. Spencer Kagan 

Active brain imaging scans have discovered that students are more engaged with working together then when working in solitude. These positive findings show that cooperative learning strategies are something that teachers should focus on introducing to their class to yield better student learning outcomes.  

Ultimately, these cooperative learning strategies are about keeping all students engaged at once and promoting teamwork within the classroom. Student participation should be equal, and each student is held accountable for their individual contributions with these cooperative learning strategies. 

 These tactics not only help students with the learning process, but they also set up students for the future in other areas of their lives. Cooperative learning strategies will help students develop stronger relationships with others, as these tactics teach valuable communication skills.  

Social interactions are all around us, and it’s important to be able to leverage these connections by knowing how to interact and work with others.