Making Group Projects Enjoyable Instead of Dreaded

Imagine this scenario…

It’s the week before finals and you get assigned a group project to complete before your final. The groups are assigned – you don’t get to pick. There’s you: the ever-so-studious and hardworking students who knows what’s happening. There’s another student: they haven’t come to class in 5 weeks, do they even exist? They don’t respond to your email to meet up for the project. There’s the other student: they don’t pull their weight because they know you’ll do it all and get them a good enough grade. This is a nightmare we’ve all been through and a nightmare that’s made us despise group projects in certain classes.

What Actually Is Cooperative Learning?

According to the US Department of Education, “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.”

Now this sounds broad, but it generally be broken down into a few main models:

  • STAD
  • Jigsaw II
  • Group Investigation
  • Co-Op Co-Op
  • Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

I won’t get into detail about each of them, but information about them is everywhere. There exists a lot of overlap between them as well, it isn’t as daunting as it seems!

How Can [Science] Teacher’s Design Cooperative Learning That Works?

The majority of research points to cooperative learning being beneficial for students when compared to competitive learning. It helps grow students’ attitudes for science and allows for lower-performing students to still perform! It’s something that should be embraced instead of avoided.

The biggest thing to consider is interdependence. Students should each feel that they are reliant on one another for the well-being of themselves in regard to the project they’re working on together.

Image result for cooperative learning

What Might It Look Like?

An earth science teacher teaching about rock types might use Jigsaw II and break students into expert groups that each learn about a type of rock (this is a small class). Those students who become experts in sedimentary rocks come back to an original group where they teach those students who are experts in igneous or metamorphic rocks all about sedimentary rocks.

For some more examples of, and reasons why to incorporate cooperative learning strategies, check out this video by Edutopia:


  1. Chris,
    I really enjoyed your post! I like how you opened it with a scenario that we’ve all been in before to personalize it. I also like that you brought a quote from the US Department of Education because it adds to the credibility of what you’re saying. I think that interdependence is super important in the classroom because it teaches students responsibility and helps them how to take leadership of their own learning. I also really liked your video because it was a visual way to show cooperative learning as more than just an idea or concept. Overall, I think your post was spot on and summed up cooperative learning very well!

  2. Chris

    The scenario you set up at the beginning is too well-known to so many students. And we all definitely know what that feels like. It is awful. What I love most about your blog post is that you incorporated “interdependence” into it and provided a good visual of what it really is. It shines a light on what cooperative learning really is and clarifies the topic. After reading the “What Might It Look Like” section, what would you do if you had a larger class? Not all classes will be small enough for super effective cooperative learning approaches.


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