Cooperative learning is one of those buzz words we teachers should be familiar with nowadays. We might have already received some training on it in our school, read something about it or even put it into practice. There is no doubt cooperative learning is a successful teaching approach that helps our students improve their understanding of a subject as well as their interpersonal skills within the group and the class.
So in this article I’d like to contribute to the ongoing discussion around this cooperative learning. I’d also like to share a few teaching ideas into the bargain that I think your primary students should like!
How can we add a cooperative flavor to our classes?
First of all, teachers need to explain the objectives of the task, set up the rules and the roles for each member in the group as well as manage time and space. But we also need to train our students by altering Group dynamics (webpage in Spanish) and using Games (in English) in our lessons, i.e., short activities that foster teamwork, critical thinking skills, positive relations among groups, self-confidence and motivation.
Secondly, we can implement activity based tasks in our lessons that cover several language skills. Here are three fun, effective and practical ideas that you’ll be able to easily incorporate in your lessons:
1. The vocal mirror (Adapted from Ed Cousins)
Objective: to get to know each other by practicing common personal questions.
Level: 5-6 year-olds (1st of primary).
- Students, in pairs, face each other.
- Read the following questions, one by one: What is your name? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite pet? What is your favorite food? How are you feeling today?
- On the first turn, only Student A will answer those questions, so allow for some time after each question for your students to give a response. However, the students can only reply by moving their lips (no sound and full sentences!). Example:
Teacher: What is your name?
Student A (just lip moving): My name is Kelly
- Student B will move their lips at the same time, trying to mirror what Student A is saying. Therefore, Student B’s role will be to 1) copy their partner’s lip movements and 2) guess what Student B is saying. It is important, then, that student A involves B into the task, trying to make themselves understood.
- Students switch roles.
- In order to check understanding, ask the students what they have learned from each other.
For higher levels, students can explain a past experience, what they did yesterday, etc.
NB. This activity might be slow at the beginning, but with practice, students will gradually increase pace (make sure you mix higher and lower level students).
- Stand up for your word
Objective: to review vocabulary, agree / disagree, sound recognition.
Level: 6-7 year-olds (2nd of primary).
- Give each group of students a card with set of words taken from a story or a reading. You can instead use picture flashcards, if you prefer.
- Students work individually and make sure they understand the words, helping each other.
- Then, all members agree on how to act the words out (à la charade).
- Once the students have practiced in their groups, read the text containing the words from the different cards. Whenever a word from any of the cards is said, the group of students with that word in their card will stand up and represent it.
Rule: all members of a group have to stand up at the same time. If just 1, 2, or 3 people stand up, then the word is not valid.
- To check understanding, read the whole story. Now all groups stand up and represent the words the same way the original groups did it.
- How I met your Playmobil © (Adapted from Amanda McLoughlin)
Objective: to explain a simple past experience (meeting someone).
Level: 10-11 years-old (6th of primary).
- Students bring one picture / mask / toy of their favourite Playmobil © to class.
- Individually, students imagine who they are, what they do, how old they are, what they like doing, what they hate, what they eat, whether they have a pet, any brothers or sisters, etc.
- Then, students get in pairs, with their toy / tag / mask and describe their character. They imagine these two people actually know each other: How did they meet? When? Where? What do they like doing together?, etc.
- Finally, in groups of four, i.e, two pairs, they introduce each other, and imagine they already know each other: How did they meet? What’s their relationship (neighbours, family, classmates, etc)? What do they hate / like doing together?, etc.
As a follow-up, back in pairs, students reproduce the story of “How I met your Playmobil ©” and write it on a piece of paper. Then, exchange papers with the other pair, and correct the mistakes. Alternative: the students act it out.
I hope you like the ideas I’ve shared and that now you get an idea of how to add a cooperative flavor to your classes!
You might also be interested in….