CTEVirginia Commonwealth UniversityCenter for Teaching ExcellenceCTE
CTE HomeAbout the CTEProgramsWorkshopsResourcesWhat's New
Bookmark This Site CTE Site Map Printer Friendly Text Size:SmallNormalLargeExtra Large

Cooperative Learning

What is cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is the use of small student groups in the classroom; students work together in a variety of ways to increase their learning.

When can cooperative learning be used?

Cooperative learning can be used:

  • As a stand-alone activity to improve understanding of specific content and improve critical thinking skills
  • During lecture to improve critical thinking and understanding of content
  • As generalized support during the university experience. 

Has cooperative learning been shown to be effective?

Yes.  Multiple research studies show cooperative learning helps students both understand disciplinary content and form higher-level thinking skills.

How do I go about setting up a cooperative learning experience as a stand-alone activity?

Before the class starts, the instructor should:

  • Determine the course objectives       
  • Determine student assessment techniques
    • Consider group assessments versus individual assessments
  • Decide if cooperative learning can be used to meet course objectives and if so:
      • How it can be used
      • How often it can be used
      • Supports the students will need to maximize their learning
        • Peer reviews
        • Formation of group rules and roles
        • Amount and detail of instruction
        • Formal versus informal discussion of progress with the instructor
        • Amount of reflection on metacognitive strategies
  • Types of activities for the students to perform as part of cooperative learning
    • Problems to solve
    • Questions to answer
    • Experiences and information to share
    • Projects or papers to create
  • Decide group size and formation

During the first class the instructor should:

  • Arrange the room as needed
  • Review the course syllabus (or use the syllabus review as an icebreaker)
  • Thoroughly explain the reason for cooperative learning
  • Thoroughly explain the procedure for cooperative learning
  • Make a good first impression on the students

During the first meeting of the student groups, the instructor should:

  • Thoroughly explain the reason for cooperative learning
  • Thoroughly explain the procedure for cooperative learning
  • Perform an icebreaker, if not done previously
  • Have the students create group rules
  • Assign roles, if the instructor decides to use roles
  • Monitor the groups for success, intervening only when necessary. Intervene by asking leading questions.

During subsequent classes the instructor should:

  • Thoroughly explain the reason for cooperative learning
  • Monitor groups to insure cooperative effort, understanding of roles and task, and understanding of disciplinary content
  • Intervene if necessary, first by asking leading questions
  • Praise good work

During the final group meeting, the instructor should:

  • Provide closure by having students report or summarize their findings
  • Debrief with each group individually to monitor group process

How do I go about setting up cooperative learning as an adjunct to lecture?

See these website pages:

What type of activities can students do during cooperative learning?

The type of activity chosen depends on:

  • Students:  number, year of study
  • Purpose of the class
  • Purpose of the unit of study
  • Learning objectives
  • Your skill as a group facilitator

Types of activities:

  • Questions that require higher-level thinking, such as comprehension and application
  • Case studies
  • Problem-based learning
  • Think-pair-share activities
  • Pairs of students reviewing each other’s notes

Where do I get more information?

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
Contact webmaster
Academic Learning Commons
1000 Floyd Avenue, Suite 4102
Richmond, VA 23284
(804) 828-4470