Building the A-Team

Think back to high school, maybe even middle school (in some cases college), what was the one activity that every time the teacher mentioned it you cringed?  There are probably a lot of different answers, but the most common one was probably “group projects”.  Why?  Shouldn’t group projects be great? We get to work with our friends (if the teacher didn’t assign the groups) and make something interesting and hopefully have fun with it.  But the truth is one person did almost all the work while everyone else goofed off or provided moral support.

That’s a group, not a team.  Now instead of working in groups, let’s put people into teams and get them performing their best.  When you get a team together, they usually struggle at first, but with some relationship building and work they will be the best you got.  And that’s the difference between a team and a group, the relationship.

Let’s get this team together and start cooperating.  The first thing we will do is get them forming bonds, if they don’t feel any connection to the people they are working with, then it will be hard for them to work together.  But once you have those bonds, it’s time to get them working together for a goal.

This is the entire idea behind cooperative learning.  We want to get students to form a relationship with one another, and then go out and complete a mutual goal together.  That could be a project, a discussion, or even a worksheet.  Cooperative learning doesn’t come in just one flavor, but rather it comes in five.

The “Flavors” of Cooperative Learning

STAD (Student Teams Achievement Divisions)

  • The most commonly used form of cooperative learning
    • Teacher presents information in a lecture style format
    • Students are placed in teams of 4-5 and work on worksheets, labs, etc together
    • Encourages collaboration
    • Team/Student improvements are measured and the teams are recognized on how well they did or improved
    • Students are quizzed individually
  • Easiest to implement into a traditional classroom

Jigsaw II

  • Students are placed into teams where each individual is given something to be an expert on
    • Work with the students from other teams that are also becoming experts on the topic and do research on it
    • Students are able to do their research/learning however they want
  • The students become experts on their topic and then present it to their original team
    • This produces discussions between the students
  • Encourages students to present their information in a format unique to them

Co-op co-op

  • Topics are introduced to students, and then there is a class discussion on it
  • The students will develop the topics and expand on them
  • Teams are selected based on their interests
    • Each team selects a topic that was developed before
    • Topics are broken into smaller topics for each member of the team to gather information on it
    • Generate something to report their information back to the team
  • The teams then present their topic, and try and make it as interactive as possible
  • Students can be evaluated formally or informally
    • One common approach is peer/self-evaluations and evaluating the presentation overall
  • Encourages each team member to get involved and work together on a topic

Group Investigation

  • Students are given the opportunity to work in teamss to select a topic and research it
    • This topic is broken into subtopics for each member of the team
  • Each team produces a plan for how they want to learn and present
  • The plan that was made is then implemented and various methods of their research is done
  • Information gathered is then evaluated and analyzed
    • Students summarize this information into a presentation for the class
  • Students are evaluated on their presentations and the contributions overall
  • Students are given large amounts of freedom in this form
    • Responsibility is placed heavily on the students
  • Hardest to implement usually and can require students have some experience in cooperative learning ahead of time

Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

  • Brief lecture on a topic
  • Students are given question stems that they use
    • These questions are used to build off of and produce more questions
  • Work individually on their questions, and then group into teams to discuss the questions and their possible answers (answers not required)
  • Creativity is the key here, because students are able to learn what they want to learn
    • Discussion between each other encourages this

The focus behind cooperative learning is to get students working together, but in almost every type of cooperative learning model the students are being driven to learn by themselves.  Students will learn and achieve so much more when they are working together, and bringing their own research into their learning.


  1. @Ryan
    I find the relationship part of the entire process of cooperative learning to be so important, as my post would show! One of the ways I was thinking of getting students to build relationships in class was to get them to share some interesting things about themselves. Maybe have them select from 3-4 catergories and each member of the group decides what they like from that, such as “What is your favorite animal?”. This would get them talking to each other and maybe see what they have in common!

    Thanks for the feedback! I know we have all been there, it’s a great thing to get us all relating to! I didn’t think about including my own story about group project experiences, that would have been a great thing to add! I would definitely comment on my Bio Lab group project that I had to do freshman year.

    Thank you! I thought the relationship building between students was the most important, but I also wanted people to have a clear understanding for each of the models. If students aren’t willing to work together as a team, then they can’t work together at all and nothing productive will come from their time together!

  2. Dillon,
    I really enjoyed the way you laid out the different models of cooperative learning. You clearly described how these methods work, and the purpose behind the different steps in the process. This was really well done. Another thing I enjoyed was your discussion about being a team, not a group, and how the relationships that are built help to define teams. Relationships are so important in cooperative learning. Without them, students may not feel comfortable or trust the other members of their team. The quote you used from Henry Ford did a great job of summing that importance up.

  3. Dillon,

    I loved your intro to this blog post! We all relate to being in group projects and feeling like you’re doing everything–after all, if you won’t, the project won’t get done and you’ll get a failing grade. Even when teachers add in the “peer assessment” part of it where you get to say, “Yeah, Bobby didn’t participate at all!”, it doesn’t make up for the fact that you had to do everything yourself. This is why teamwork is SO CRITICAL. Students need to develop a classroom settings where they want to be involved and bring the best out of each other. Your blog post said this very well! I would maybe add in some more creative options/stories to draw readers in. All in all, good post!

  4. I thought it was great that you touched on the relationship part, as a wise person I don’t know once said “kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. It is a challenge in itself making sure this relationship is formed with yourself as a teacher and your students at the beginning of the year. What ways/methods do you think you will be able to utilize to facilitate the building of constructive relationships between students in your class?

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