Co-operative learning strategies

Linsey Beattie applied co-operative learning strategies to some of her lessons, and was amazed at the results.

English teacher, Cumbernauld High School, North Lanarkshire

After a few weeks of settling in, learning pupils names, learning which forms to put the pupils names on when they misbehaved . . . I felt that I really should be looking to implement some new and adventurous teaching strategies and become a super-teacher! (Ha ha!)

In my eagerness, I joined a Co-operative Learning Group. This led to me discover the vast amount of resources available in my school and the variety of subjects they were being used in.

If your school is not the same, however, do not be put off: all you really need are some pupils and a small percentage of organisational skills (if you can get yourself dressed in the morning, you're fine).

Before you begin

A word of caution here! Before you do any type of group work, you should really spend some time going over how to work in a group.

It is amazing how quickly the pupils can identify how to behave in a group and yet they look at you as if you are an alien when you reprimand them for talking over someone. So, don't launch straight into ˜Today we are going to be doing group work and expect small hives of activity. I learned this the hard way!

Starting out

I was initially quite wary about using co-operative learning strategies in my classroom; it was too much to take. The concept of my pupils walking around the classroom and working together! I was picturing my curtains alight and me as an effigy.

As a result, I started off with small techniques, for example, asking them to line up in alphabetical order according to a category that you give them, such as last name, birthday month, last holiday, and so on. You then number them 1 to 4, and set out your groups (scan your line, if you have the usual suspects altogether at the start of the line separate them into different groups!).

To further complicate things you should tell the pupils that they have to do it silently, thus leading to all sorts of strange hand gestures, none of which are usually rude, miraculously.


Social skills need to be identified and this can even be done co-operatively, using the ˜think-pair-share" strategy. They have one minute to think on their own of all the skills required for group work; then they have one minute with their partner to discuss the requirements; then each pair is expected to contribute in a whole class discussion. Setting up co-operative learning by using co-operative learning, brilliant!

Now, once you have got them in their groups, the fun can begin!

Numbered heads

They should be numbered in their groups so that everyone can have a role, for example ˜Number Ones can collect the pencils. (You can give them address labels with their numbers on to avoid confusion!)

This is called ˜numbered heads", you can call out a random number from 1 to4 and they will be expected to report back to you the group findings. The uncertainty of who will be asked ensures everyone stays on task.

Encouraging participation

Another way to encourage everyone to participate is to give the group an A3 sheet of paper, draw a saltire cross on it and then each member will be responsible for their own quarter. It also makes it very easy for you to see at a glance who is on task or not as the case may be.

Try it and see

I hope this has inspired some fellow probationers to give co-operative learning and teaching a try. It really is worth adapting some of your lessons and you will be amazed at how something so simple can turn a practice exam paper or a ˜boring" topic into something that the pupils want to do.