Teamwork: Makes the dream work

There are two kinds of people in the world…

1. People who like group work

2. People who HATE group work

(I’ve worked in groups that were worse off than these dogs)

I fall into the second category (mostly), and I think I have some mostly valid reasons for it. BUT… group work is the most effective tool for teaching some skills and can be a truly vital part of the classroom (if it’s done well).

The trick is using a method called Cooperative Learning.

Cooperative learning is essentially a set of parameters and methods used to make group work effective.

There are a few essential rules you’ve got to follow when employing a cooperative learning lesson.

There are NO slackers

All of the kids need to put the work in. If there is dead weight in the boat, it will sink. The kids need to responsible to each other as much as they are responsible to you.

There are a bunch of ways to ensure that this happens. I’m gonna fill you in on two of them. One of which I’ve seen my teachers use in the past, and one (my new favorite) which I learned pretty recently in a class I’m taking now (shout out to Dr. Ann Mackenzie)

  1. Have the students complete their own work or learn a separate concept on their own first. If they are all completing work on their own first, they can’t rely on each other for the entire assignment
  2. Give them all a different color marker (pen, pencil, etc…). That comes with a few simple rules; nobody switches colors, and every color has to show up on the final project. This way everyone is forced to participate and you can look at the project and immediately see who did what. Genius

They’ve got to NEED each other

You need to create some kind of interdependence. It’s vitally important to the strength of the team that they work together.

Maybe they have information that the rest of the group needs. Maybe only they are able to use a specific tool to complete a specific task. Maybe they have a unique or particular skill they need to apply. The important thing is that everyone has a role to play, and they all need to fill their role. Like a good heist movie, every bit of the puzzle has to fit perfectly into place.

FAIR evaluation

The team needs to know what they need to do to accomplish their goal. The guidelines for success should be clear and reasonable. Any evaluation should mandate that the group work cooperatively and effectively as a unit.

This video demonstrates an activity that falls in line with the cooperative learning model. Students are required to communicate silently during the first stage, then move on to explaining their thoughts and refining their answers. Then groups shift around the room as the class compares with each other and each group further refines their answers. This particular activity would likely work best with a language class, but it has the exact right idea.



  1. Pete–great post! I definitely feel your personality coming through. The portion of your post that stuck out to me the most has to be the discussion on NO SLACKERS. I think that this would catch any teacher’s attentions because it is the opposite of what we want to see within the classroom. A good cooperative learning lesson plan would keep almost every students’ interest. If all students are interested, more students will actually want to be involved within their group. However, I have definitely have had members of a group that don’t allow anyone else to do the work, even if everyone is interested. How would you, as a teacher, go about dealing with students that are making it seem as though other students are slacking–even though they aren’t? How would you make sure that a group is doing genuinely equal work?

    • Kate! Thanks, I do really try to make the post with some personality. I think equal cooperation is extremely important. I think it can be tough to solve that problem, but I’d like to believe that students won’t try to falsely sabotage a group member. One way I’ve seen used to solve the issue is to have a survey after the work is completed where students can review themselves and their teammates. That way I try to pull out any peculiarities or discrepancies with group members.

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