Cooperative Learning Strategies - Down River Resources | Your Elementary Math Guide

Cooperative Learning Strategies

I presented some staff development workshops this summer  about cooperative learning strategies and was able to share my classroom with other teachers in my district. Just for the record, these teachers are the inspiration behind "Down River Resources." They helped me realize the full potential of my vocation. Thank you, Texas friends.

Using Cooperative Learning Strategies in the Classroom

During these workshops, a specific format is used. It goes something like this: I model and share a piece of a lesson and then the teachers share the instructional strategies they saw present. This really holds me accountable for the correct modeling of these strategies. Finally, the teachers apply the strategies that I shared during the workshop by modeling their own mini-lesson with a small collaborative groups.

I am a "newer" teacher in comparison to many of the teachers whom I meet at these workshops, but they are truly so excited to learn "new tricks" (as one sweet teacher shared with me in an email today.) In college, this newer generation of teachers has been taught more about building a classroom community of learners, rather than being taught content knowledge (I have a real problem with this--but that is not the topic of this post!)

Many of the cooperative learning strategies that can be utilized in the classroom are much newer to a large group of these teachers. I must say, my school district has put a lot of emphasis on the structure of the classroom and I have yet to see a classroom, at the schools I have worked at, with individual desks separated into "the grid."

Here are a few tricks that you would see if you walked into my class:

Students are grouped in teams of three or four.
  1. All students are separated into teams of three or four.
    • Smaller groups allow (force) students to communicate.
    • Any group larger than four usually is more problematic as far as behavior is concerned.
  2. Each student chooses a number in the group (1, 2, 3, or 4--depending on group size).
    • Students have the choice to pick the number so they have ownership of it.
    • Each student is required to know the response to my question because they do not know who is will be called on in their group. (I tell them after they have time to discuss! This way every student is "on the hook" or accountable!)
  3. Each group is assigned a different color.
    • I place $1.00 small metal buckets in the middle of the tables that are the color of the team. (Target sells these in the party aisle. Hobby Lobby has some in seasonal and party sections.)
    • When I dismiss groups to join me at the rug or line-up for lunch, I use their group color.
    • There are other variations to this: You can use shapes, numbers, or academic vocabulary words that change but meet a specific unit. I have lots of great ideas on how to do this, but I stick to colors as it is just easier for me to remember. Once you get in a habit, it is hard to break it!
  4. I have a small metal bucket with spoons in it. Yes, I said, "Spoons!"
    Cups or Buckets to Label Table Group/Spoons to Call on Students
    • Each spoon has a number on it. The number written on the spoon represents the student in the group is that number for their group (See Step 2 if you forgot already!)
    • I just bought these new Crayola plastic cups the last time I was in San Antonio at H-E-B for 66 cents.
    • I only used standard white plastic spoons for this with Sharpie marker written numbers. My friend, who I often collaborate with, gave me a great idea this summer. Have you been to a frozen yogurt shop lately? Does your favorite shop stick a funky spoon in your yogurt when you pay? Mine does! Take a break, grab some "fro-yo" (I think that is what the youngsters call it), and SAVE YOUR SPOON. The future of the Earth depends on it. Think about your carbon footprint. You can save the planet!
  5. Here the routine I use to implore this strategy now that you have all the key pieces:
    • Tell the students that, "In just a minute you will be responsible for discussing a question with your team. It is important that all team members have a turn to speak. When each member has a turn to speak, you need to work together to come up with a response for your team. You will not know who I will be calling in, so it is important that everyone is ready to share."
    • Ask ALL of the students a question. Have all the students repeat the question. (This helps build language skills which is very important in a classroom with a high ratio of English learners.)
    • Then, tell the students something to note that they need to begin. I say, "Heads together," and use a visual cue. The visual cue I use for this command is I put both of my fists together which represents the word, together.
    • I allow enough time for students to process the information, being mindful that some students need additional time.
    • Then, I call all of the students "back together." I say, "Back together." All of the students who are finished put their eyes on me. Anyone that is in the middle of their conversations, finish up quickly and then put their eyes on me. (This is a routine I teach that values all students and their processing times.)
    • I grab my metal bucket with spoons in it and I mix them up. As I am mixing them up, the students all stare at me because they are very curious as to what number I will pull out of the bucket. (This is why I emphasize that each student should be prepared.) I pull a spoon out of the bucket and reveal the number to the students. Typically, they all shout out the number on the spoon. This is one less job for me and helps them read their numerals which supports our mathematics standards!
    • I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the purple table shares." Everyone listens. I usually thank that student for sharing. Then, I say, "Everyone listen, as number 1 from the blue team shares.." and so on. I KEEP THE SAME NUMBER FOR THIS ROUND OF REPORTING OUT. There is no need to switch them each time, or it lets students "off the hook." It is important that each team reports out and you hold them accountable.
  6. Use this cooperative learning strategy in all subject areas, no matter what grade level you are in and you will see your students' language skills greatly improve.
I hope this post inspires you to build these types of cooperative learning structures in your classroom.

How do you integrate cooperative learning in your classroom?

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