Cooperative Learning and Teaching


This page includes information that compares cooperative, individual, and competitive interactions and the benefits of cooperative learning. Five Elements necessary for cooperative learning. A six step lesson plan model framework with a sample instructional plan. A planning checklist, cooperative strategies to use with groups and in classrooms, and group processing suggestions.

For activities to use to introduce cooperative learning see:

Comparison of three instructional interactions:
Cooperative, Individual, and Competitive

Any subject or topic can be taught with learner interactions being: cooperative, individual, or competitive.

Cooperative, sends a message: We are all in this together.


individual birds

Individual, sends a message: I am in this alone.



competion eating

Competitive, sends a message: If I win, you lose. If I lose, you win.



Benefits Of Cooperative Learning

Cooperation is a powerful way for students to interact and achieve:

  1. Greater intrinsic motivation
  2. Higher self-esteem
  3. More positive psychological adjustment
  4. Greater use of higher level reasoning
  5. More on-task behavior
  6. Higher achievement
  7. Increased communication skills
  8. Increased socialization
  9. Greater collaborative skills
  10. Greater social support among peers
  11. Increased perspective taking
  12. Less stereotyping and prejudice
  13. Increased social skills
  14. More positive heterogeneous relationships
  15. Better attitudes toward teachers
  16. Better attitudes toward school
  17. Improved attendance
  18. Increased retention
  19. Positive relationship to drug abuse prevention


Five Elements Necessary for Cooperative Learning (Johnson & Johnson)

1. Psychological Safety and Positive Interdependence

2. Face-to-Face Interactions

A sense of belonging is created when students sit in a circle or an arrangement where they can see each other face to face. Activities and interactions: such as brain storming, asking and answering questions, summarizing, explaining, and elaborating will support group cohesiveness.

3. Individual and Group Accountability

The most important goal is: the success of the group. Students should continually assess the groups progress and support each person to achieve the group's goal. When the group is successful in achieving its goal, then individual success will also be achieved.

4. Interpersonal or Small Group Skill

To be successful students need to communicate, make decisions, set goals, lead, trust, motivate each other, and mange conflicts. When students struggle with these or are not able to do them, then support is provided with the inclusion of the necessary social skills. Social skills are learned by observing people interacting. Therefore, if the required behaviors are not available for students to see and apply, then they must be taught. See additional information for social skills.

5. Group Processing

Students must continually monitor and analyze how they are functioning as a group both on the fly and after achieving their goals. Their decisions on how to interact with others through their selection of appropriate social skills will maintain effective working relationships.

Additional resources: Cooperative Learning Institute: University of Minnesota,
Johnson and Johnson


Six Steps for a Cooperative Lesson

  1. Communicate the subject matter format or procedure
  2. Communicate the social aspects
  3. Group work
  4. Teacher observes and collects data
  5. Process the social aspects
  6. Process the subject matter
  7. Honor group/ closure


Cooperative Lesson Planning Framework

Title of Activity:

Grade Level:

Social Concept Information

  1. Perceptual response and misconceptions
  2. Facts, properties and supporting information
  3. Concepts, relationships, and generalizations
  4. Observations
  5. Transformations
  6. Assessment levels
  7. Value and life application

Knowledge Concept information

  1. Perceptual response and misconceptions
  2. Facts, properties and supporting information
  3. Concepts, relationships, and generalizations (also consider Bloom’s Taxonomy 1. Knowledge, 2. Comprehension, 3. Application. 4. Analysis. 5. Synthesis. 6. Evaluation)
  4. Observations
  5. Transformations
  6. Assessment levels
  7. Value and life application


  1. Communicate the subject matter format or procedure.
  2. Communicate the social aspects.
  3. Group work.
  4. Teacher observes and collects data.
  5. Process the social aspects.
  6. Process the subject matter
  7. (Honor group/ closure)


Sample Lesson Plan - Encouragement and spinning tops

Title of Activity Spinning tops and encouragement

Grade Level third and up

Social Concept Information - Cooperation, encouragement

  1. Perceptual response and misconceptions - encouragement is being told you did good. People work because they want to or for money and not because of other people.
  2. Facts, properties, and supporting information - Praise is a positive statement used to increase a certain behavior. Specific praise describes the behavior that was good and why. Telling people thanks, will usually increase positive social interactions. Reflection on behavior and feelings will help adjust our interactions for the better. Good feelings increase behavior that causes the good feelings. Asking and answering questions help us to learn and make better choices.
  3. Concepts, relationships, and generalizations - Encouragement helps groups and individual members work together better and longer. Examples include: praise, thanks, reflection on feelings, good feelings, questions to move forward, ... Encouragement can be communicated oral, written, and with body movements.
  4. Observations - Seeing and hearing examples of encouragement. Seeing: Leaning forward, smiling, turning ones head toward the speaker, ... Hearing: What do you think? How should we decide? Where are we now? I think Jon's idea of ... would be worth exploring.
  5. Transformations- Teacher draws a three column chart with headings of looks like, sounds like, and feels like and asks students to process their ideas for encouragement, discusses them, and writes them in the corresponding column on the chart. Clarifies each as necessary.
  6. Assessment levels - Low level: encouragement is praise. Middle level: identify encouragement as actions that bring members into a group and cause them to contribute to achieving the group's goals. Top level: participate in a group with appropriate actions that encourage group members to contribute to achieving the group's goals.
  7. Value and life application - Encouragement is necessary in all healthy relationships.

Knowledge Concept information - Matter, energy and motion (see also spinners and rollers plan)

  1. Perceptual response and misconceptions - Energy is used up and disappears
  2. Facts, properties, and supporting information - Energy is a push or pull. Energy can create motion. Energy can be put into a system. Energy is transferred.
  3. Concepts, relationships, and generalizations - Energy source transfers energy to a receiver. Energy output is proportional to energy input. Energy can be transferred from a one object or subsystem to another. Energy can be inferred through observation.(also consider Bloom’s Taxonomy 1. Knowledge, 2. Comprehension, 3. Application. 4. Analysis. 5. Synthesis. 6. Evaluation)
  4. Observations -
  5. Transformations -
  6. Assessment levels - low level - energy is used up or disappears... Top level Describe how energy can be transferred from sources to receivers in a chain like effect while energy is conserved.
  7. Value and life application -

Cross cutting process - System, subsystem, and explanations

  1. Perceptual response and misconceptions - objects are stand alone things that have different and similar properties.
  2. Facts and properties and supporting information - Objects can be grouped by common properties. Objects are any piece of matter. Objects can interact when they touch or at a distance to cause a change. System is group of objects that work together for a particular purpose. A system must include all objects that make it work. Objects in a system can be grouped into subsystems.
  3. Concepts, relationships, and generalizations - Generalizations can be made for objects in systems and subsystems to better understand how they operate and interact. Subsystem is a group of objects that work together for a particular purpose and belong to a larger group of objects that work together for a larger purpose, which can be labeled a system. (also consider Bloom’s Taxonomy 1. Knowledge, 2. Comprehension, 3. Application. 4. Analysis. 5. Synthesis. 6. Evaluation)
  4. Observations - see properties of a top (pointy bottom, wide middle with greater mass, smaller top for spinning... ) to organize as a system. see properties of surface as a system or subsystem on for a top to spin (surface friction ...) Feel hands interaction with top (fast, pressure/ force, direction of push, twisting?, ...)
  5. Transformations - Draw a representation for subsystems: hand, top, and surface. Label properties for each. Draw before, during, and after pictures with lables of properties and descriptions of how the transfer of energy effected the interaction of the subsystems within the top system.
  6. Assessment levels - Low level ... Top level use systems and subsystems to describe and explain interactions of an intricate system.
  7. Value and life application - Use of observations to describe ....

Cooperative learning lesson procedure

  1. Communicate the subject matter format or procedure
    Hold up a top and ask students what it is? Ask what it does? Ask if they can describe what would make an object a top and how it might spin better or worse? (diagnosis) Tell students they are going to explore spinning tops and discuss how they spin the way that scientists would explain it by asking a question, experimenting to answer the question, reporting the question and answer, and how they answered it. May want to provide a sheet that has four parts: Question to explore. What you did. What you found. Explain why you are or are not confident that the results are understandable or can be used to predict future interactions.
  2. Communicate the social aspects
    Ask What do people do to make you want to work with them? Ask if it is the groups responsibility to help all members contribute and feel they are part of the group? Ask how this might be achieved? Write all suggestions so students can see and read them. (diagnosis)
  3. Group work
    Put students into groups of four. Have each group select a top, take turns spinning it, write a question about the top, what makes it spin better, what makes it spin poorly, collect data to answer the questions. Remind them to work on encouragement...
  4. Teacher observes and collects data -
    Quietly monitor and record how students are encouraging members in the groups to participate. As they explore how to make tops spin in different ways whisper encouragement for them to list properties of the tops, surfaces, and energy sources. Ask them to record the properties and how each effects the tops spin as the properties are change.
    identify three subsystems in a Whirlybird System, identify variables,
  5. Process the social aspects
    • What do your group do to help each person to want to contribute. (formative}
    • Make a three column chart... Label it encouragement and fill it out (formative)
    • After the chart has information from students, add information collected by the teacher.
    • Ask students what new ideas they would like to try. (summative)
    • Ask students how they could encourage their parents when they are cleaning the house.
  6. Process the subject matter
    • Have each group share their question, answer, and how they answered it with the class. Record a summary of the data for the class by listing properties and their effects for all groups displayed so all can view. Discuss the energy input and output. They may conclude that the energy input is proportional to energy output (the harder you spin it the longer it spins).
    • What are the different objects and properties mentioned? (top, middle, and bottom of tops, surface, smooth or rough, hand - direction and amount of force of spin.) Ask how can we think about all these objects and properties and how they are working together in everyone’s creation to better understand what is happening? (Diagnostic for system) How might it be helpful to think of two systems (spinning top and surface) to describe the interactions between the two? What are the properties of each? How do they interact as the properties change? (Diagnostic for variables, energy transfer, and relative position and motion) What makes the system do it? How does a push or pull cause change? What are the properties everyone had in the spinning top system? (summative for system) How does changing the push or pull (amount of force and direction of force) change the system? (summative for energy, relative position and motion, systems, and newtons laws)
    • What are some subsystems in a bicycle? (generalization for system) Compare a car engine to what you learned about energy. (Generalization for energy)
  7. (Honor group/ closure)


Planning Checklist

  1. [ YES : NO ] Communicates the subject matter format and procedure - Explains how students will interact with each other (interaction pattern). Includes the subject matter directions for group work. Includes how the groups will report to the class and how they will be evaluated if evaluation is to be included.
  2. [ YES : NO ] Assign a Social Skill - Announces and writes the name of the social skill. Motivates students for learning or improvement of the selected social skill. May create or review a previously created three column chart with: What if looks like, what it sounds like, and what it feels like. Explain what the teacher will and will not do, particularly collecting data for the later parts of the lesson.
  3. [ YES : NO ] Students Work in Groups - Includes a room arrangement so students have eye to eye connections. Describes how students are grouped. Describes students’ work. (YES : NO)
  4. [ YES : NO ] Teacher Observes and Collects Data - Plan will allow for the teacher to be in close proximity with the groups to observe and record social and content knowledge data. Write information about groups. Teacher only interacts and/or intervenes with students only if necessary.
  5. [ YES : NO ] Process the Social Skills - Describes how students will share their reactions to their use of the social skill. Explains the processing method for the teacher to share observational data. Groups discuss and process what they and the teacher discovered. Refines three column chart or other documentation. Assess students social and emotional growth.
  6. [ YES : NO ] Process Subject Matter - Students communicate content information collected. Students participate as planned, discuss information and draw conclusions, and ideas which are presented as transformations of observations of facts into concepts that explain how the relationships and generalizations are constructed. Summarizes discoveries. Discusses strategies and metacognition students used to achieve goals. Determines if students met criteria. Assess students cognitive and emotional growth. Sets future goals.
  7. [ YES : NO ] Have group members honor each other


Strategies for cooperative learning

  1. Talking in class - Discussion talking etiquette. Sample discussion or lesson on talking etiquette.
  2. Turn to your neighbor - Tell students they have three to five minutes to turn to their neighbor and explain, summarize, ask, or answer a question. Or have them summarize by selecting three important issues, or any other idea which would fit the lesson.
  3. Reading groups - Students read together and discuss. If you give the students questions to answer about the reading they could have a reader, recorder, and checker. Could have each come up with there own answer to each question, share the three possible answers and select the one or ones which make the most sense. When finished they can sign the paper to agree. See also reciprocal teaching.
  4. Jigsaw - each person in a study group reviews and learns a topic or part of what is to be learned by the entire class. If there are three areas to be learned each person, from a study group of three, studies a part. For example: one person studies - part A, person two studies part B, and person three studies part C. Person one then teaches part A to person two and three of their study group. Person two teaches part B to person one and three of the study group and so on for part C. You might also combine this with another strategy by having all of the people who are person one responsible for part A get into a break-out group and learn about that part with all those responsible for part A in a break-out group, part B in another, and part C in another.
  5. Focus trios - before a class activity have three students summarize what they already know about the subject and list questions about it. Afterwards the trio can answer their questions, lead a discussion, and formulate new questions.
  6. Drill partners
  7. Reading buddies - Have students read their stories to each other, helping each other with words and comprehension. May want to have reading buddies predict what the story will be about, read silently to a certain point, discuss what they read, and predict what will happen.
  8. Homework checkers - Have students compare their work, discuss what they do not understand about the other person’s work and if there are differences resolve them. They may resolve them by agreeing on an answer or agreeing to disagree or by listing it the class agenda for discussion by the entire class later.
  9. Test reviewers - Groups work together to review with each other for a test. Might have an incentive so each person in the reviewer group gets bonus points if the other group member scores are better than a predetermined score, maybe current student's average.
  10. Composition pairs - Student A explains what they plan to write to student B who takes notes. Together they discuss and refine their plan. Student B explains while student A writes. They exchange outlines, and use them to write their papers.
  11. Board workers - Students in a group go to the board together. One can be the suggester, one the checker to see if everyone agrees, and one the writer.
  12. Problem solver - Give a group a problem to solve. Each student must contribute to part of the solution. Groups can decide who does what. ALL must contribute and ALL must be able to explain how the problem can be solved. Could vary by having the group find as many solutions as there are people in the group and each person must be able to explain all solutions. Then when called on a person can be randomly selected and a solution randomly selected to explain.
  13. Computer groups - Students must agree on what to type before it is typed. One person is the keyboard operator, another the monitor reader, and the third is the checker to see if all agree on what is to be typed. Roles can be rotated on a time basis.
  14. Book report pairs - Students interview each other on the books they read, then report on their partner’s book.
  15. Writing response groups - Students read and respond to each other’s papers three times. 1. they mark what they like with a star and put a question mark anywhere there is something they don’t understand or think is weak. Then they discuss the paper as a whole with the writer. 2. They mark problems with grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, or format and discuss it with the author. and 3. They proof read the final draft and point out any errors for the author to correct. The teacher may provide questions or check lists of items to focus the students’ attention.
  16. Skill teachers/ concept clarifies - Students work with each other on skills or concepts until each can identify or explain easily.
  17. Group reports - Students research a topic together. Each one is responsible for writing a certain amount of notes and checking a certain amount of sources. They write the report together and each is responsible for the information which is included or not included. For oral report, each is still responsible and must report a part.
  18. Summary pairs - Students read alternately and orally summarize paragraphs. One reads and summarizes while the other checks the paragraph for accuracy and adds anything not included. They can alternate roles with each paragraph.
  19. Elaborating and relating pairs - Have students elaborate on what they read and relate it to what they already know. This can be done with a class discussion, video, audio ...
  20. Playwrights - Students write a play together, perhaps about something studied, practice, and perform it for an audience.

Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec


Suggestions for Group Processing group interactions

  1. Did anyone help you in a way that made you feel good?
  2. Did anyone ask you for help in a way that made you feel good?
  3. What problems did we have in helping each other and how did we solve the problem?
  4. How did your group make sure everyone's ideas were listened to?
  5. Did you need help?
  6. How did or could you ask for help?
  7. Why is it important to let everyone share in the discussion?
  8. How did you help so everyone could share?
  9. How could you be sure everyone’s ideas are heard?
  10. Was there something you decided not to do because it would not be fair to the group?
  11. Did anyone help you understand something better?
  12. What kind of help did you get?
  13. What problems did we have? What made it a problem? What could we do next time to avoid or solve it?


Suggestions for Honoring groups and group members

For analysis

  1. We did well on ... by doing ....
  2. I could have done more of by doing ...
  3. We did best on ... by doing ... and ....
  4. List each person in the group and how much they talked.
  5. List each person in the group and how each encouraged (or used the social skill).

To generalize

  1. We can use this social skill ...
  2. This social skill is important because .
  3. Something to help groups work together is .
  4. List ways for a group to cooperate.

To appreciate

  1. What did a person in your group do that you appreciated?
  2. I enjoyed it when
  3. I learned when did
  4. I liked it when
  5. I admired the way did

Goal achievement

  1. Next time I want to
  2. One thing we'll do differently is
  3. Next time our goal is to



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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