Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning:  Great Grouping Strategies for Your Classroom



The grouping strategies for cooperative learning in the classroom presented on this page really DO work. I know this because I’ve successfully used many of these techniques in my classroom over the years.

The benefits of collaborating with peers are plentiful. One obvious benefit, of course, is that the kids themselves get to do the talking INSTEAD of the teacher.

And, that can lead to problems occasionally.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the Overview page, you’ll find there a more thorough explanation of the benefits and possible pitfalls of this instructional approach.

I’m a strong believer in catering to the preferred learning styles of the individual students who populate my classroom. As a result, information regarding that topic is presented first and foremost after the quick links. 

Assessing Preferred Learning Styles

What follows in this section, is basically a restatement of what I mentioned on the Overview page. I don’t normally like repeating myself, but in this case I made an exception.

I just thought that what follows here is important enough that it deserves a little underlining.

In my opinion, to really maximize the effect of cooperative learning, it would be useful to determine the preferred learning style of each student in your classroom. Once you know that, you can group students accordingly.

For example, you would want to avoid having a group of all visual learners. Consider including a logical learner, a kinesthetic learner, and an audio learner along with the visual learner in the same group.

Diversify for maximum impact.

Does this take time to put into place?

Absolutely. But, I think you will agree, it will be time well spent in the long run.

Here are some practical suggestions on how to assess the individual learning styles of your students. And, the best part of all, they’re FREE!

I’m quite sure that there are a plethora of websites and printed materials that can be obtained that would be appropriate for assessing the preferred learning styles of your students.

In researching this page, I have come across a resource that I highly recommend.

The people behind this website offer a 70 question online inventory for assessing an individual’s preferred learning style.

The learning styles included here are . . .

  • visual-spatial
  • aural-auditory
  • verbal-linguistic
  • physical-bodily-kinesthetic
  • logical-mathematical
  • social-interpersonal
  • solitary-intrapersonal

I took this online inventory myself, and I have to tell you that I was impressed with the profile that was returned–had me nailed to a T.

Additionally, the scores returned with this instrument include a complete description of the traits of each learning style.

I would highly recommend that you assign your kids to complete this inventory and report their results to you.

Perhaps, you could schedule class time in one of your school computer labs in order for all of your kids to complete this inventory.

You, as the teacher, would NOT receive the results of all of your students in one convenient report. However, if you were to require them to do this and complete the following form, you would be in a position to make crucial decisions about group assignments.

Here is that form, which can be downloaded completely free of charge here.

This site also has quite a selection of a free “brain power” games. Your early finishers could entertain themselves while their classmates finish their inventories.

There you go.

A complete class period in the computer lab is all planned out and ready to execute! 

Random Grouping Techniques

If assessing preferred learning styles to differentiate instruction is not something that you want to take on, there are several easy and effective ways to randomly group kids for cooperative learning.

When I want to temporarily abandon the preferred learning style for grouping, the following approach is definitely my favorite one.  

Pick a Word, Any Word

This technique has a cool, game-like, built-in instructional benefit.

Write a word on an index card and then on the next two, three, or four cards, write synonyms for the original word. For example, you could have cards containing the words large, gigantic, huge, enormous, and so forth.

Do the same with additional sets of cards using different sets of synonyms for however many number of groups you want.

Ask each student to pick a word, any word. Once everyone has a card, explain to them that they will be working in synonym groups, and if necessary, remind them of what synonyms are.

Students then form themselves into groups based on matching synonyms.

This approach could also be used for homonyms, antonyms, figures of speech, or pretty much anything else that can be categorized. 

Tongue Depressers (seriously)

Obtain a bunch of tongue depressors, craft sticks, or even popsicle sticks and write numbers on them.

These numbers should correlate to the number of groups that you would like and the number of people in each group.

For example, if you want six groups of four students each, then you would have four 1’s, four 2’s , and so forth.

All of these numbered sticks then go in a cup or can labeled “6 of 4.” Then, of course, the students draw sticks to determine their grouping.

I have a feeling I know what you’re thinking here. This may take too much and effort to prepare, but actually it’s not–particularly if you have kids who like to help the teacher.

You could even have them do a cup containing 5 of 5 and one for 4 of 6. Once it’s done, it’s done! 

Color Pencils

This grouping strategy is very much like the Tongue Depressors approach, except it takes much less time and effort to prepare.

I have a feeling that you know where I’m going here.

Obtain several boxes of colored pencils. Have an equal number of colors as the number of groups you need. Then, if you want each group to have four members, for example, have four pencils of the same color for EACH color.

Then, each student selects one pencil from the cup. The four kids with blue pencils form a group and so forth. 

Group of the Day

This grouping strategy would probably work best if you were to set it up during the first few days of school, while your kids are still learning the classroom rituals and routines.

For example, perhaps Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, you might choose to have groups of four. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you might want to have groups of three–or whatever.

You could verbally remind students that this is a group of four day, and then they would form in the appropriate group.

For me, posting this outside the classroom door seemed to work best because the students knew before entering my classroom what other kids they were going to be working with that day.

I have not used the final two grouping approaches that follow below. Some of my colleagues have successfully used these approaches or some variant of them over the years. 

Genre Groups

I have not used this grouping approach or the other two that follow below. However, some of my colleagues have successfully used these approaches or some variant of them over the years.

Separate your kids into groups based on the types of books, movies, music, or websites that they enjoy visiting.

I would imagine that an interest survey you might give at the beginning of the school year would be useful here. Because most of these surveys are done on paper, they will have no clue that you are using the survey as a means to group them. 

Burger Buddies

Have your kids choose the fast food establishment they like the best.

Have an equal number of choices for the number of groups that you would like. For example, Which do you prefer? McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Subway, and so forth.

This could be problematic, especially if you have a roomful of kids who are Mickey D Fans. But, this could be overcome by throwing in a choice of sides or beverages. 

Birthday Buddies

Match the students according to the months that they were born.

This may or may not work depending on how their birthdays fall. One way to get around this would be to group them by the seasons in which they were born.

I can imagine what you might be thinking–it’s pretty much like a game of chance that would be out of your control. However, I’m just mentioning it because it IS a grouping possibility.  

cooperative learning

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