Let’s Have Cooperative Learning for Lessons!


One cannot assume that learning will necessarily take place just because children are doing group work. To ensure that productive learning takes place, there is a need to infuse elements of cooperative learning into the group activities. In this article, the key principles and structures of cooperative learning as well as the benefits of using cooperative learning are discussed. Some suggestions on the use of cooperative learning, together with classroom examples are also presented.

What is Cooperative Learning?

As a teacher, you might have observed that your students can get into groups naturally for interactive play during recess. They can display a high level of engagement and this may prompt you to think of introducing group work in your primary social studies lessons to maximise your students’ interest and learning. However, just by having students in groups and expecting them to work together do not mean that learning will necessarily take place. To ensure learning is productive, you need to integrate elements of cooperative learning into group activities. Cooperative learning is an umbrella term for a set of instructional models that requires students to work and interact together in small groups for the promotion of individual and group members’ learning (Kagan, 1994; Morton 2008; Slavin, 2011). Although such instructional models can vary in how cooperative learning is structured, all of them have common essential elements that make them cooperative in nature. According to Johnson and Johnson (1988, 1989, 1999a), these elements are positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face promotive interaction, social skills and group processing.  

a. Establishing Positive Interdependence

For cooperative learning to work, teachers need to structure positive interdependence. Students need to learn that group success depends on the efforts and success of all group members. Teachers can foster positive interdependence through goal interdependence (“Make sure you and the rest learn the materials”), reward interdependence (“Each group member will get a reward if all the group members attain 90 plus for their test”), resource interdependence (“Each one of you will receive a part of the materials”) and role interdependence (“Take on the role of either a reader, a checker, an encourager or a elaborator in your group”).


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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