Cooperative Learning: There Is No I In Team (But There Is One In Interdependence)

Are you tired of group work? Does the idea of working with other people make you groan? Will your group members actually do their work or will they leave it to you to finish the project all by yourself? Why should your grade depend upon irresponsible group members who don’t do their part anyway?

Image result for group work meme

What if I told you that all of these classroom worries could go away in a flash? Group work can now become a thing of the past with the introduction of…

Cooperative Learning!

What exactly is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is a learning technique that involves students working in teams in order to achieve mastery on a topic. Important factors of cooperative learning include:

  • Promotion of interdependence between team members
  • Individual accountability
  • Highly structured
  • Teacher planning
  • Team rather than group focus
Scientists don’t usually work individually, they work in teams!

Still not convinced that cooperative learning is any different than group work? Here is a chart showing the differences between the two learning strategies!

Image result for difference between group work and cooperative learning

How to Incorporate Cooperative Learning into the Classroom?

The first step to incorporating cooperative learning into the classroom is splitting the class into teams. Here are some important things to remember when students are working teams:

  • Teams should be heterogeneous
  • There should be 2-4 members in each team
  • A clear academic goal should be stated for the team
  • Roles can be assigned to each member to promote interdependence
  • Producing one product is a good way to demonstrate individual and group accountability
  • Team building is key!!
This website provides fun team building activities that can be used to strengthen teams in the classroom!

Cooperative Learning Models and Examples:

Co-op Co-op

Image result for group project

In a co-op co-op activity, students split into teams based on a topic they have an interest in learning about. The students then work together to become experts on their topic and then develop a lesson or presentation to teach the rest of the class about their topic. The topic can be based off of what is being taught in class or can be a more broad interest in the field of science. This activity promotes autonomy and mastery as well!

Case Studies

Image result for case study

Case studies can be used for both team building and teaching content! In this kind of activity, students have to work together to analyze data in which they are provided and draw conclusions based on that data. Case studies can involve gathering clues, solving mysteries, or even just analyzing data in order to gain more knowledge about a particular topic.

Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

Image result for asking questions

The goal of reciprocal peer questioning is to get students asking questions to one another for the purpose of generating discussion. After introducing a topic, students are given time to develop their own questions using a variety of sentence starters. Students are then grouped together to discuss the questions the students came up with. This activity is a great way to make sure that each student gets time to speak because everyone has to ask a question. Also, this helps students to develop communication and listening skills which are very important to have when working in group settings.

This video gives a summary of what cooperative learning is as well as some additional cooperative learning strategies that can be used in the classroom.

You may be asking yourself, “is cooperative learning necessary to have in the classroom?” Even though cooperative learning should not be used all the time, it teaches some very important skills such as communication, conflict resolution, personal accountability, interdependence, and social skills in general. Teachers should be preparing students for the “real world” and the truth of the matter is that we have to work together and rely on other people all the time in both the workplace and in life as a whole. Cooperative learning is a good mechanism for improving student achievement while also preparing them for challenges they will face later in life.


  1. Hey Aaron! Thank you for your question. I honestly haven’t thought too much about how I will differentiate group work and cooperative learning when explaining to parents. I think I would start by explaining how cooperative learning requires a sense of interdependence that group work does not. I would also explain that group work is basically just putting students into groups and having them work together while in cooperative learning everyone has a role and students are required to work as a team in order to succeed, meaning that everyone is doing their part and everyone is learning. Furthermore, if a parent is concerned about how their student will be evaluated in a cooperative learning setting, I would assure them that students can be evaluated in a multitude of ways, many of which do not directly depend on the performance of their peers. Although, students should hold each other accountable so everyone has the knowledge they need to have. Thank you for getting me thinking about this and developing a more effective way to explain cooperative learning to parents!

  2. Hey Woojin! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the team building activities! Out of all of the cooperative learning models I talked about, I think I will use co-op co-op model in my classroom the most. I like this model because it requires interdependence and self-accountability, but it also promotes autonomy because students are able to choose a topic or subtopic that interests them. Thank you for your comments and question!

  3. Hi Caitlin! Thank you for your comments. Team building is so important in creating a positive classroom culture as well as producing a productive environment for cooperative learning. I think two team building activities that I would love to use in my classroom would be the spaghetti tower and the shark tank activities. Both of these activities fosters team work between students but are also engineering activities that requires critical thinking and creativity, which are wonderful things to incorporate into a science classroom!

  4. Great post Anna! I was wondering if you had any tips for how you might help differentiate between “group work” and cooperative learning? Especially when it may come to talking to parents about your work in the classroom.

  5. Great post Anna! I really liked your tweet – Science is definitely not an individual sport and our students should really be treated as Scientists. The link that you attached to the post gave me a good idea of what kind of activities I can do to help team building. Out of all the cooperative learning models that you mentioned, which one do you think you’ll use most often in your classroom, and why?

  6. Hi Anna!
    Thanks for the informative post about Cooperative learning! I love the differences you make between cooperative learning and group work. Your visuals are also great! I also think your link to team building exercises looks like so much fun!! Which one is your favorite and would be most useful in you classroom?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.