Making Cooperative Learning Work for Teaching and Learning, pp. 4 of 9

Conducting Cooperative Learning Lessons

The successful implementation of cooperative learning lessons hinges on equipping students with the necessary skills for social interaction and management of challenging behaviours within groups.  Some of the ways to manage students include establishing group norms and implementing team and class building activities, using the quiet signal, the 6-inch or 15-cm voice, Team-Then-Teacher rule and sponge activities.

a) Teaching Social Skills

Teachers need to understand that putting students into groups cannot guarantee group success. What is often needed is the teaching of social skills as they are the key to any successful group endeavour (Johnson et al, 1998). Teachers need to know what social skills to teach and how to teach them. The steps for teaching social skills are: help students see the need for learning social skills, define the skills, set up practice, allow time for group processing and encourage practice. Four levels of social skills have been identified for cooperative learning. They are forming skills, functioning skills, formulating skills and fermenting skills (Johnson et al, 1998) as shown in Figure 2.

Social skills can be taught through role play or using the T-chart. Getting students to role play appropriate social behaviours followed by a discussion to reinforce them can enhance group success. The T-chart, which contains two columns - what the social skill looks like and what it sounds like, is a useful device for teachers to use when they brainstorm with their students on the appropriate behaviours associated with a particular social skill. The chart can be put up in the classroom and act as a reminder to students during group work. An example of a T-chart is shown in Figure 3 below.

b) Managing Groups

i) Group Norms and Team and Class Building 

      There are many ways to manage group work. One way is to establish group norms with the class. Teachers can work together with their students to create group and class behavioural guidelines and these can be pasted at prominent spots in the classroom

for easy reference and reminders. In addition, engaging students in class and team building activities can foster cohesion and mutual commitment to learning (Kagan, 1994).  

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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