Cooperative learning is a style of education that gets students actively participating in the classroom. It is much more than group work, though that is a part of it. Kennesaw State University defines cooperative learning as when "small teams ...use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject." This method of educating is appropriate at all age levels and for all subjects.
The Jigsaw method groups students together, typically in groups of five. Each student learns a different topic, and then teaches it to his fellow group members. The teacher then asks questions and possibly conducts an exam. The official website for the Jigsaw method provides an example of a group learning about World War II. One student would be told to study and explain Hitler's rise to power, while another student would focus on Japan's entry and role in the war.
To encourage teamwork and cooperation, ice-breaking questions and activities are essential. One way to do this is to find a large beach ball and write questions all over it. Have students stand in a large circle either in the classroom or outside, and have them toss the ball to each other. Whoever catches it has to answer the question that her right thumb is on (or is closest to). Example questions include "What is your favorite movie?", "What is your favorite subject in school?" and "Why did you pick the outfit you are wearing today?"
The activity that utilizes the Double-Entry Journal is best done with students in pairs of two working on a single project together. Each student gets to review the other's progress and contributions down the left-hand side of a piece of paper. Once the project is complete, the students exchange papers so that they have the other's comments. After a day of mulling over the comments, the students get to write their responses down the right-hand side of the paper. To further encourage cooperation, the pair must then meet for one final time to discuss any concerns and suggestions, as well as to seek any clarifications they may need.
In a round table exercise, students will sit in a circle. The teacher then gives a topic and each student, going around in the circle, has to provide a word or idea in an allotted time limit. For younger students, the topic can be as simple as asking them to come up with words that begin with a certain letter. Older students might be asked to contribute ideas on how to strength the economy or suggestions for the president, for example.
The write-around activity is similar to the round-table method. The teacher will put a story starter on the top of a sheet of paper, and then begin passing the sheet around the classroom. Each student adds a sentence of his or her own. Once the sheet has been passed around at least once, the teacher can then read their story out loud. This could also work for older students and subjects outside of English. For example, a history or science teacher could ask students to each add one fact about a specific topic.
Nicole Devlin began her professional writing career in 2002 and currently serves as news editor for a daily newspaper, building on her previous experience as a features and government reporter. Devlin also has a background in public relations and marketing. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications in 2007, with a focus in broadcast journalism.