Cooperative learning is so important in the elementary classroom because it helps students become actively engaged in their learning process and improve their understanding of the content. It promotes achievement, enhances retention, increases motivation, develops social skills, and builds self-esteem.
In cooperative learning, each member of the team is responsible for their own learning AND also for helping their teammates learn. I think this concept often gets lost. Students work together to help one another learn. Below, I have several different strategies or activities that can be done to help increase cooperative learning in your classroom.
Cooperative Learning Strategies for Any Elementary Classroom
In mix-freeze-pair, students begin by walking quietly around the room while music is playing. After about 10 seconds, the teacher stops the music and says, “Freeze.” The students stop and “freeze.” When everyone is still, the teacher will say, “Pair.” The students will pair up with whoever is closest to them and then the teacher will announce the topic or question. Students are then given think time and discussion time. Then, after everyone has had time to discuss, the teacher says, “Mix” and the activity starts again. There is a variation of this where you can have students Mix-Pair-Share. It is also similar to Think-Pair-Share. You can read about the 3 different ways to Think-Pair-Share here.
In this cooperative learning activity, the teacher poses a question or problem with multiple answers and gives think time. Then the teacher calls, “Popcorn,” and students quickly and voluntarily pop-up from their chairs one at a time and share their answer. Take it a step further to involve all students – have the seated students write the responses and mark the incorrect answers. Then at the end of activity discuss the incorrect answers.
Circle the Sage
For this activity, the teacher would need to poll the class to see which students have a special knowledge to share. For instance, a teacher may ask who in the class knows the chemical reactions involved in how salting the streets help dissipate snow, or was able to solve a difficult math homework question. Those students (the sages) stand and spread out in the room. The teacher has the rest of the students surround each sage. The sage explains what they know while students listen, ask questions, and take notes if desired. Then students return to their seats and share what they learned. Discuss as a class.
Give One, Get One
Students fold a piece of paper hot dog style. Then students open the paper and draw a line down the crease. At the top of the left column they will write, “give one” and on the top of the right column, “get one.” The teacher will pose a question or topic with multiple answers and gives a time limit. Students list as many things as they know in the “give one” column. The teacher tells students to stand and find a partner. The student shares an answer with a partner. If the partner has it, s/he will check it off, if s/he doesn’t s/he will write it in the “get one” column. Both students share one and then move on to a new person. This continues until the teacher says stop.
Have students partner up. Assign roles of partner A and B. Provide students with a question. Have partner A answer the question and partner B ask Why ___? (the blank represents what partner A said). Then partner A has to give a thoughtful answer. Then partner B follows partner A’s answer with Why _____? 4 more times. Then they switch roles.
Provide each cooperative learning group with three strips of paper, one long, medium, and short strip. After a lesson, have each group write a sentence summary on a long strip, a phrase on a medium strip, and a word on the shortest strip. Then have groups share their strips and the thinking behind their choices. If desired, post the strips (sentences together, phrases together, and words together on their own chart paper) for students to view via a gallery walk.
Give each group playing cards (Ace, One, Two, Three for instance). Ask each a question and have each group discuss together. Then call one of the playing cards (such as the aces) to rotate to a different group. When they arrive at their new group, they will share what answer their group came up with and why. Then, if desired, pose a new question and repeat.
Provide each group with lunch paper bags filled with questions (or facts for fun!) about the topic you’re learning. Every 10 minutes or so, stop and tell the groups to “Go Fish!” (You can pick someone to draw [most pets, brightest shirt] or they can pick.) The group discusses the question or fact- if it wasn’t covered yet, they just return it to the bag and draw another one. If desired, have students share occasionally.
Commit and Toss
Students write down a summary, opinion or idea on a piece of paper (they don’t write their names). They wad up the paper and toss it multiple times until the teacher says to stop. Students then pick up one wad of paper near them, open it, and reads it. Students then discuss it and share.
Corners – Vocabulary Style
We have all heard of the 4 corners game, but in this one, each group member goes to a corner to learn about a concept or vocabulary word. (The teacher tapes or places information in the corner ahead of time). The students in that corner take notes and then return to their group to teach that information.
With these 10 different cooperative learning activities, your students are sure to be engaged and increase their understanding of content.
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