Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is an idea that is gaining traction. The approach is more productive and efficient than competitive learning, which is the staple of most schools. Below is a useful introduction from the Georgia Educational Technology Training Center.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work through the assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it. 

Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members:

  • gain from each other’s efforts. (Your success benefits me and my success benefits you.)

  • recognize that all group members share a common fate. (We all sink or swim together here.)

  • know that one’s performance is mutually caused by oneself and one’s team members. (We can not do it without you.)

  • feel proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is recognized for achievement. (We all congratulate you on your accomplishment!).

Why use Cooperative Learning?

Elements of Cooperative Learning

Class Activities that use Cooperative Learning





Why use Cooperative Learning?

Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques:

  • promote student learning and academic achievement

  • increase student retention

  • enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience

  • help students develop skills in oral communication

  • develop students’ social skills

  • promote student self-esteem

  • help to promote positive race relations








5 Elements of Cooperative Learning

It is only under certain conditions that cooperative efforts may be expected to be more productive than competitive and individualistic efforts. Those conditions are:

1. Positive Interdependence  
(sink or swim together)

  • Each group member’s efforts are required and indispensable for group success
  • Each group member has a unique contribution to make to the joint effort because of his or her resources and/or role and task responsibilities

2. Face-to-Face Interaction
(promote each other’s success)

  • Orally explaining how to solve problems
  • Teaching one’s knowledge to other
  • Checking for understanding
  • Discussing concepts being learned
  • Connecting present with past learning

3. Individual
Group Accountability

( no hitchhiking! no social loafing)

  • Keeping the size of the group small. The smaller the size of the group, the greater the individual accountability may be.
  • Giving an individual test to each student.
  • Randomly examining students orally by calling on one student to present his or her group’s work to the teacher (in the presence of the group) or to the entire class.
  • Observing each group and recording the frequency with which each member-contributes to the group’s work.
  • Assigning one student in each group the role of checker. The checker asks other group members to explain the reasoning and rationale underlying group answers.
  • Having students teach what they learned to someone else.

4. Interpersonal &
Small-Group Skills

  • Social skills must be taught:
    • Leadership
    • Decision-making
    • Trust-building
    • Communication
    • Conflict-management skills

5. Group Processing

  • Group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships
  • Describe what member actions are helpful and not helpful
  • Make decisions about what behaviors to continue or change

Class Activities that use Cooperative Learning

Most of these structures are developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan and his associates at Kagan Publishing and Professional Development. For resources and professional development information on Kagan Structures, please visit:


1. Jigsaw – Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To help in the learning students across the class working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice in these “expert” groups the original groups reform and students teach each other. (Wood, p. 17) Tests or assessment follows.

2. Think-Pair-Share – Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire group.

3. Three-Step Interview (Kagan) Each member of a team chooses another member to be a partner. During the first step individuals interview their partners by asking clarifying questions. During the second step partners reverse the roles. For the final step, members share their partner’s response with the team.


4. RoundRobin Brainstorming (Kagan)- Class is divided into small groups (4 to 6) with one person appointed as the recorder. A question is posed with many answers and students are given time to think about answers. After the “think time,” members of the team share responses with one another round robin style. The recorder writes down the answers of the group members. The person next to the recorder starts and each person in the group in order gives an answer until time is called.


5. Three-minute review – Teachers stop any time during a lecture or discussion and give teams three minutes to review what has been said, ask clarifying questions or answer questions.

6. Numbered Heads Together (Kagan) – A team of four is established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give the answer.  

7. Team Pair Solo (Kagan)- Students do problems first as a team, then with a partner, and finally on their own. It is designed to motivate students to tackle and succeed at problems which initially are beyond their ability. It is based on a simple notion of mediated learning. Students can do more things with help (mediation) than they can do alone. By allowing them to work on problems they could not do alone, first as a team and then with a partner, they progress to a point they can do alone that which at first they could do only with help.

8. Circle the Sage (Kagan)- First the teacher polls the class to see which students have a special knowledge to share. For example the teacher may ask who in the class was able to solve a difficult math homework question, who had visited Mexico, who knows the chemical reactions involved in how salting the streets help dissipate snow. Those students (the sages) stand and spread out in the room. The teacher then has the rest of the classmates each surround a sage, with no two members of the same team going to the same sage. The sage explains what they know while the classmates listen, ask questions, and take notes. All students then return to their teams. Each in turn, explains what they learned. Because each one has gone to a different sage, they compare notes. If there is disagreement, they stand up as a team. Finally, the disagreements are aired and resolved.

9. Partners (Kagan) – The class is divided into teams of four. Partners move to one side of the room. Half of each team is given an assignment to master to be able to teach the other half. Partners work to learn and can consult with other partners working on the same material. Teams go back together with each set of partners teaching the other set. Partners quiz and tutor teammates. Team reviews how well they learned and taught and how they might improve the process.



David and Roger Johnson. “Cooperative Learning.” [Online] 15 October 2001. <>.

David and Roger Johnson. “An Overview of Cooperative Learning.” [Online] 15 October 2001. <>.

Howard Community College’s Teaching Resources. “Ideas on Cooperative Learning and the use of Small Groups.” [Online] 15 October 2001. <>.

Kagan, S. Kagan Structures for Emotional Intelligence. Kagan Online Magazine. 2001, 4(4).



Kagan, Spencer. Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 1994.

BT Notes: Kung Hei Fat Choi, fishing, …

woodsHappy New Year!  Chinese New Year that is!  We have fond associations with Chinese New Year from our decade in Asia and wish all our friends a happy, peaceful and fulfilling Year of the Rat. The year of the Rat started with the new moon at the end of last week.  To celebrate yours truly attempted some Chinese cooking – not a complete disaster and the children enjoyed it!  Coincidentally rat‘s have been on my mind recently.  Firstly, because there was such a good crop of them this autumn and last week I finally succumbed to using poison.  I hate to do it because it is mean and the poison spreads through the food chain.  The small consolation is that vegetarians generally avoid the poison web because they won’t eat dead carcasses.  Hopefully a good blitz now will reduce the immediate population (especially with the cold nights) and they will stay away from the poultry and house.  Before finally getting the poison, I did some on-line research into rat control and lifeccyle and found that in fact they are far less revolting than their reputation suggests.  They can carry disease, but that is generally the same as other mammals living in close proximity to one another – in their natural environment they do not overpopulate and are generally disease free.  They become carriers of disease when the population balloons because human waste is attracting them. Taking rat appreciation to another level, there are in fact fancy rat associations and rat shows, like dog shows.  The rats at these look quite nice and well behaved.  Finally, in my rat odyssey, we saw the movie Ratatouille last week, a great movie about food and cooking! Kung Hei Fat Choi! (or wishing you prosperity).

There is news on the fishing front.  As mentioned before there are to be conservation restrictions in place on many rivers in Ireland this year.  The Slaney has salmon and sea-trout catch and release only.  You can read about these restrictions here. Many keen anglers, however, have decided to put down their salmon rods for the season anyway because they are convinced that the river needs a few more years to recuperate.  This group includes Tullow Anglers who voted unanimously at their AGM to ban fishing salmon on their waters this year.  The background to this conservation is more political soap opera than you might expect with back-door conversations, selective polling and extraordinary coincidences (like the fact the government has changed the terms of leases on the Slaney in such a way that it allows Dan Morrissey’s (one of the best connected business groups in Ireland) to bid on a stretch of river and buy it out from anglers that have maintained it for years).

Our fishing policy this year will be somewhat restrictive.  There will be no fishing at all, except for overnight tourists who will not be charged by us but who will require a guide.  This is to provide some attraction to tourists who may bring some economic vitality to the community and offer some encouragement to training anglers and showing them the riparian habitat.  This of course also means that season rods will not be taken up.
However, as development of the natural playground continues here at Ballin Temple we will open up access.  From this year people interested in contributing to the maintenance of the woods and river are invited to take an annual ticket.  This will entitle holders to access and will help us maintain paths, parking, banks, woods, tea hut, security, etc.  Depending on the activities you plan to pursue – walking, horse riding, bike riding, camping, fishing, etc – there will be small supplement.  We hope people living nearby will take up this offer and we will be able to nurture a community of people that use and love the river and woods and get to know one another.  Please drop me a line to find out more.
The pace of activity in the garden seems to have picked up suddenly.  While there is still lots to do on the maintenance side (logging, path clearing, building etc), and now’s the time to do it while vegetation s subdued, the planting cycle is starting to get busy.  I’ve restructured my rotation slightly and tilled half the plots, trimmed the hazels between the plots and planted onion sets, broad beans, beetroot.  Garlic should go in soon and greenhouse plants are being sowed.  The warm sunny days are very difficult to refuse and offer an attractive distraction from the desk!  I wonder if this warm weather is going to be like April last year – extraordinarily pleasant and seemingly unseasonal – and then no summer …!  I think its getting close to time for a BarBQ while its dry :-).

Pam’s popular yoga classes are still ongoing, though there will be a break for Easter soon.  Check with Pam for details (059 9155037).
Finally a bit of news from Astraea – we’re in the process of launching a new workshop for people thinking of changing their lifestyle.  Changing Course is a one-on-one workshop to help people slow-down and balance work and life better, without making as many mistakes as we have!  There is a brief summary here, or call me to find out more (059 9155037).

I hope you’re enjoying a fantastic spring with sunny warm days (or a lovely autumn if you’re down under 🙂 ).
And boys, remember to show your partner some love on Thursday – Happy Valentine’s Day.
Best wishes,


Dealpedia – business deal info …

Michael Rbertson, founder of Linspire (formerly Lindows 🙂 ), has just launched Dealipedia – a business wiki for mergers, acquisitions, venture investments, IPO and other deals. Launching with nearly 20,000 deals, but also never before revealed info like how much Yahoo paid for Flickr, how much Google paid for Grandcentral and how much the founders of Myspace made in their sale to News Corp.  Check it out!

US employment down – a serious sign of slowdown

US employers cut 17,000 jobs from their payrolls in January, US Labor Department figures showed. Economists had been expecting a rise of 80,000.  If this figure proves to be in line with actual events (after adjustments), it shows severe declines in economic activity in the US.  There has been modest wage inflation over the past few years so there is pressure for wage increases.  The combination of declining employment and upward wage pressure makes for a very uncomfortable economy, with potentially volatile political implications especially in an election year.

Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo: desperation and disaster

Microsoft is bidding for Yahoo.  It has offered to buy  Yahoo for $44.6 billion in cash and shares.  The offer, contained in a letter to Yahoo’s board, is 62% above Yahoo’s closing share price yesterday. Yahoo cut its revenue forecasts earlier this week and said it would have to spend an additional $300m this year trying to revive the company.

Microsoft’s intent smacks of desperation as it tries to retain some preeminence in computing.  Its operating system still keeps the company alive, but its technology is lagging behind that of rivals, expecially in the open source space.  Its forays into entertainment are working, but this is not a sector where they can claim excellence or pioneering work.

Our big concern, however, is the danger that MS culture will take over Yahoo, which has provided a far more open and honest search engine than Google. Google’s privacy policy and ownership should be an issue for all internet users – that is why Yahoo is referenced on rather than google.