Structuring Interdependence: Cooperative Learning

I’m sure every student has experienced this:

Group projects aren’t the most fun, exciting and collaborative as your teachers think it is. One person goes missing, another one says they’ll help but doesn’t, and some don’t have any idea what’s going on. It somehow always end up with one person doing 99% of the work… And that’s where cooperative learning comes into play.

So What Is Cooperative Learning?

Cooperative learning is not just group work. According to the U.S. 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.”

It is crucial to understand that cooperative learning emphasizes the idea of structuring positive interdependence among the students. It is vital for the group members to believe that each person’s efforts benefit not only him/herself, but all the group members.

How Do I Implement This In My Classroom?

A few key points about implementing cooperative learning models in the classroom are:

  • Team Building
    • It is important to use team-building activities such as making their team name, team logo, team flag, etc after dividing them into groups. This will help to build a sense of community and group awareness.
  • Assigning Roles
    • Assign each student a role (time-keeper, scribe, manager, presenter etc) and explain their academic task. Make sure that all student contributes to the learning in order to structure positive interdependence.
  • Facilitating
    • Our role as teachers is to facilitate, by walking around and monitoring their interactions, guiding the students to the right path. Make sure that they are learning and offer help if needed.
  • Evaluation
    • Instead of just giving tests to analyze the students’ learning, make sure to evaluate the quality of students’ learning, assess how well the teams are functioning and do a content closure.

Here’s a post by the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College that gives you more information about the different cooperative learning techniques based on different categories: discussion, writing, problem-solving and more.

Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom

Some examples of cooperative learning strategies that can take place in the Science classrooms are:

  1. Using the jigsaw method – when you’re trying to teach a broad topic with many subparts. For example, when learning about biomes, allow each member of the home-based teams to be an expert of a particular biome. The expert groups will meet to discuss and help each other to learn about the system and as they return from their expert group, they can teach it to their home-based teams.
  2. Using interactive case studies – students will be each given different clues about the conditions of a patient (eg. diagnosed with diabetes) and they have to work as a team to find out what disease the patient is diagnosed with.
  3. Using group investigations – students will be broken up into teams based on their common interests on the topic of effects of climate change (agriculture, sea level, ecosystems, etc) and do their group research and present their findings to the class.


  1. Hi Woojin! Your post was very informative and insightful about the various ways to implement cooperative learning into the classroom. Group projects always made me nervous in school because I was afraid group members would not do their part. I think it’s a very good idea to assign roles in a team in order to promote interdependence, but what would you do if you had a student who was completely unwilling to fulfill their role in a cooperative learning assignment? Great post!

  2. Hi Woojin! Your meme about group work at the beginning of the blog post really made me laugh because it’s so relatable. I love how your post stresses the importance of team work so not one student feels like all the work is falling on him or her. With all the different collaborative learning methods, do you think one is better than the other? Why?

    • Personally, I think that all the collaborative learning methods have different pros and cons so not one of them would be way better than the other. But I definitely have some that I would implement more in my classroom in the future, like the three that I listed because I think that they are very interesting and helpful, not just for my students but for myself as well.

  3. Great post Woojin! I really appreciated how you broke down the key points of implementing cooperative learning into the classroom. It was in easy and digestible bullet points that helped me read it fast! I was wondering which cooperative learning of the three that you listed you liked the most? I think they’re all positive but I was wondering which one you see yourself implementing in the future!

    • I think my favorite would be the group investigation, I liked that they get to investigate issues that they are personally interested in. By having them being an “expert” in a field that I might not even be familiar with would be great as I would get to learn from them as well. I think this activity will also help to show my students that I’m learning with them too.

  4. That first meme is such an accurate description of almost my whole academic career! That is the reason I really wanted to avoid group work in my future classes. But thankfully, cooperative learning can be used to avoid this issue! How would you deal with a team that did not want to participate in any team building?

    • It would definitely be difficult if a group did not want to participate in a team-building activity. I think if this issue arises, I will start off with helping them to find a common interest together for them to bond over, or come u with team competition activities in order to build rapport within the groups.

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