Making Cooperative Learning Groups Work

How can I keep my students more engaged in their science cooperative learning groups?

—A., California

Group working must be intentional. Defined roles help students keep one another accountable. They have to see and care that if they do not do their parts, the group will not reach its full potential. One way I helped increase engagement was using props for the designated roles. For example, group leaders or “principal scientists” wore lab coats, which enhanced the appeal of the role. Because group leaders need to speak in positive and encouraging ways, this helped me also teach soft skills such as positive verbal communication. We practiced sentence stems to help guide the group.

Students also liked the “observer” role. This student documented how well the group worked together. We discussed what a good functioning group looked and sounded like. Along with the checklist, this person received a pair of oversized party glasses. The “safety manager” wore a hard hat and safety vest.

These props kept safety on everyone’s mind at all times. At the end of a group activity, students rated how well each task was performed, with the focus on the role, not who held the role. This helped them understand that group work is not personal. Group accountability determines the group’s success.

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