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A Definition for Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning can be defined as a generic term that describes a variety of small group interactive instructional procedures. In these procedures, students work together in small groups (usually on academic tasks) to help themselves and their teammates learn together. In general, cooperative learning methods share the following five characteristics.
1. Students work together on common tasks or learning activities that are best handled through group work.
2. Students work together in small groups containing two to five members.
3. Students use cooperative pro-social behavior to accomplish their common tasks or learning activities.
4. Students are positively interdependent. Activities are structured so that students need each other to accomplish their common tasks or learning activities.
5. Students are individually accountable or responsible for their work or learning.
(taken from Miller, 1996, http://www.utc.edu)

Cooperative Learning Structures and Techniques

There are many cooperative learning structures and techniques available for just about any learning situation. Given the objective for a lesson, you need to select a structure that will provide the optimal learning experience for the students. If the objective is to get to know the other students, then a team building technique should be used. If mastery of information is your focus, then one of the mastery structures would be the best choice. If the emphasis of a lesson is to get students to understand concepts, then a concept development structure should be used. The multifunctional structures can be used for getting students to know each other better, mastery of information, as well as concept development.

Kagan (1989/1990) provides an excellent overview of the various cooperative learning structures, including their academic and social functions. Select a cooperative learning structure (by clicking on it) and a table will appear that gives a brief explanation of each structure. The structures include the following categories:

Team Building (including Classbuilding, and Communication Building) has three structures, Roundrobin, Corners, and Match Mine.

Mastery also has three structures, Numbered Heads Together, Color-Coded Co-op Cards, and Pairs Check.

Concept Development also includes three structures, Three-Step Interview, Think-Pair-Share, and Team Word-Webbing.

Multifunctional includes five structures, Roundtable, Inside-Outside Circle, Partners, Jigsaw, and Co-op Co-op.

Additional information about cooperative learning structures can be found at:
http://www.jigsaw.org (a web page about how to use the jigsaw technique)
http://www.clcrc.com (a connection to the Cooperative Learning Center web page of Roger T. & David W. Johnson)
http://www.iasce.net/resources.htm (a web site of cooperative learning resources)

Kagan, S. (1989/1990). The structural approach to cooperative learning. Educational Leadership, 47 (4), 12-15.