Cooperative Learning in the K-12 Classroom



Overview and Purpose

Teachers often struggle with finding ways to effectively incorporate cooperative learning strategies into the classroom. Frequently, teachers in K-12 classrooms confuse cooperative learning with group work and fail to create purposeful groups that allow students to work together to achieve a common goal. Teachers frequently fear that students will get off topic, or distracted while working in groups and not be focused on the work they have to complete. This mini course will help to teach educators the value that lies in cooperative learning and methods to effectively incorporate it into the classroom. Additionally, we will explore what makes cooperative learning different from group work, and practice with creating our own mini lesson.

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problem

Multiple studies have been done determining the effectiveness of cooperative learning within the classroom. Not only has utilizing cooperative learning in the classroom been linked to higher levels of student achievement, but researchers have also found there to be an increase in student's social skills (Lumpe, Haney, Czerniak, 1998). With evidence pointing so strongly towards why teachers should be utilizing cooperative learning strategies in the classroom, teachers still do not feel properly prepared to utilize these strategies. There seems to be a disconnect between teachers ideals and teachers abilities, and a lack of instruction has lead to this.

While many teachers report feeling improperly trained on methods to help them to incorporate their classroom, others report a lack of support coming from administration (Lumpe et al., 1998). When teachers are placed in an environment that doesn't welcome a newer learning style and materials aren't made available to them, they are less likely to try a new approach.

Another misconception that is tied into the concepts of lack of training and lack of support, is a sense of fear that many teachers feel. Without knowing about ways to effectively incorporate cooperative learning, many teachers shy away from it due to fear that they will loss control of their classroom by putting so much control in the hands of the students, and fear that teachers won't be able to cover their whole curriculum (Kagan, 2012).

While information is available to teachers which points to a long list of benefits to utilizing cooperative learning, without being trained on how and why these strategies work, there is resistance to utilizing it. Teachers must be trained in order to overcome the fear, and administrators and teachers must be on the same page in regards to what learning styles will be utilized within the district.

What is to be Learned

Educators, preservice teachers, and administrators will learn about the cooperative learning process and effectiveness of utilizing this learning style in a K-12 classroom. In addition, lessons will focus on what cooperative learning is and what it looks like in a K-12 classroom, the different types of cooperative learning groups and when they should be utilized, how students benefit from cooperative learning, and important strategies for both teachers and administrators. By creating an environment when everyone is aware of the types of cooperative learning and ways to eliminate it, it will allow for the fear to be overcome. This course is going to help the learners to develop a deep understanding of what cooperative learning is, what it looks like, and what is important for successful implementation of cooperative learning. Specifically, we are going to have 5 units, each of which is going to build off of the previous one.

The first unit is going to serve as an introduction to cooperative learning and is going to have you think about your understandings of cooperative learning. This unit is going to focus on what the teacher should do before introducing cooperative learning, what the classroom environment should be set up like, what the teacher should do while the lesson is going on, and what students should be doing. Additionally, this unit will look at the differences between cooperative learning and group work, and why cooperative learning is more successful.

The second unit is going to focus on specific types of cooperative learning activities. We are going to watch videos so we can see cooperative learning in action, and start seeing what cooperative learning looks like. We will then focus on six cooperative learning activities and discuss why they are useful and important in the classroom. We will then return back to the classroom jobs and roles that can be assigned to students, and what these roles look like in the activities we discussed.

The third unit is going to focus on advantages and disadvantages to cooperative learning. We will go over the pros and cons, and then discuss how to avoid the downfalls to cooperative learning. This is going to provide you with ways to successfully implement cooperative learning. You will build your toolbox and figure out what you should do to avoid the common pitfalls to cooperative learning.

The next two units will allow you to practice cooperative learning and creating activities. Unit 4 has two learning activities. The first is going to provide you with a sample lesson where cooperative learning was utilized, but the teacher had a lot of issues with it. You are going to analyze this lesson, state what went wrong, and describe what you would have done differently. The second learning activity is going to ask you to critique a lesson where cooperative learning was not utilized, and state what cooperative learning activity you would have used for this lesson. You will rationalize why you chose the activity you did and why it would make the lesson successful.

The final unit is going to have a review section, and a section that is going to ask you to create your own cooperative learning lesson. This is going to require you to put together all the knowledge you have learned throughout this course and put it to the test. Your mini lesson is going to utilize a cooperative learning strategy, and you will state what you are going to do to make it successful.

The Learners

Learners for this mini-course will include both teachers and administrators who are currently teaching in grades K-12, as well as preservice teachers who are on their way to achieving their certification in teaching. Those who participate in this course will learn why cooperative learning is such an effective learning style, and further, different ways to implement it to make a determination for what will work best in their classroom. For pre-service teachers, by learning about the effectiveness of cooperative learning and ways to implement it in their future classrooms, this learning style will become more readily available due to their prior training and learning regarding the effectiveness.

Learning Outcomes & Performance Objectives

Learning Outcomes- By the end of the course learners will be able to answer the following questions:

  • What does it mean for a classroom to be a cooperative learning environment?
  • What are the different types of cooperative learning and when are they most useful?
  • How do students benefit from cooperative learning?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages to cooperative learning
  • What strategies can I use to effectively create a cooperative learning environment?

Performance Objectives- By the end of course learners will be able to:

  • Following instruction on cooperative learning, students will state what components are necessary in a cooperative learning environment. Additional, students will receive instruction on cooperative learning and group work, students will state the differences between the two concepts, highlighting what it means to have a cooperative learning environment.
  • Given articles and media-based materials, students will be able to discuss what they see in a cooperative learning environment, and state the different types of cooperative learning that they see take place. Students will be able to describe six different cooperative learning activities and the main components of each to make them successful.
  • Given an outline and an article, learners will read about advantages and disadvantages of cooperative learning. After reading, learners will be able to analyze why certain issues arise during cooperative learning and engage in a discussion on ways to avoid these issues from occurring.
  • Following instruction on strategies to utilize cooperative learning, learners will reflect and critique two lessons: one which used cooperative learning strategies but had a lot of issues with it, and one that did not use cooperative learning but should have. Learners will state what they would have done differently in each, providing reasons why it would have made the lessons more successful.
  • Given a four units of instruction in cooperative learning and a lesson which reviewed the main points, learners will create their own mini lesson using a cooperative learning strategy, justifying why they chose the strategy they did and how they would make the lesson successful.

Prerequisite Skills

- Participants should have experience in K-12 setting; either as a student or teacher

- Participants should have an understanding of different learning environments

- Participants should have the skills to navigate an online space, including YouTube

Course Units

Unit 1- Introduction to Cooperative Learning

In this unit, learners will learn about what cooperative learning is and how it is different from group work. This lesson will serve as a general introduction to cooperative learning for educators and will begin to identify the different aspects of cooperative learning. Additionally, learners will have the opportunity to determine differences between cooperative learning and group work.

Unit 2- Why Should I Use Cooperative Learning?

In this unit, learners read about different types of cooperative learning groups and share what they see taking place in these different settings. Learners will have the opportunity to expand their knowledge related to cooperative learning, and take note of how their understandings change as they go through the course. During this unit, learners will begin to think about why cooperative learning should be utilized, and ways in which it can be used.

Unit 3- Advantages & Disadvantages of Cooperative Learning

In this unit, learners will analyze potential advantages and disadvantages to cooperative learning. In this unit, learners will discover potential pitfalls to cooperative learning and how they can work to avoid them. Additionally, learners will begin inferring and thinking about situations which they would use cooperative learning.

Unit 4- Practice Utilizing Cooperative Learning

In this unit, learners will begin their practice on utilizing cooperative learning. They will have the opportunity to reflect on a lesson where cooperative learning could have been utilized, and how the lesson would be different if it was. Learners will choose a type of cooperative learning that they would have used in this lesson, and validate why it would have made the lesson better.

Unit 5- Creating a Mini Lesson with Cooperative Learning

In this unit, learners will look back on the knowledge they have acquired throughout the mini course and put it all together to create their own mini lesson. They will see how their knowledge and understanding of cooperative learning has changed over time, and have an opportunity to select a cooperative learning strategy, create a mini lesson with it, and reflect on the process it took to create this lesson.

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Extended Resources & References

Listed here and some extended resources for you to further explore cooperative learning. These resources will also be available at the end of the final unit, if you wish to explore further.

Cooperative Learning Institue

Vanderbilt Center of Teaching

Learn NC- Cooperative Learning

Spencer Kagan's Webpage- See Free Articles

SERC- Carleton College


Kagan, S. (2012). Overcoming resistance to kagan structures for engagement. Kagan Online Magazine, Summer 2012.

Lumpe, A. T., Czerniak, C. M., & Haney, J. J. (1998). Science teachers beliefs and intensions regarding the use of cooperative learning.School and Science Mathematics, 98(3), 123-135.