December 8, 2023

Cooperative learning is a teaching method where students work in small groups to complete or complete a common learning objective and the teacher is you! – leads them.

The great thing about cooperative learning strategies is that they are not designed for one classroom over another or for one specific academic area. They can be used in all settings and lessons!

We know that students learn in different ways and modalities, and cooperative learning strategies are a great way to meet students where they are, let students shine, and allow them to practice multiple skills at once.

Let’s look at how we can use cooperative learning in a special education classroom setting.

Before we dive into the what or how, I want to share the why.

Why use cooperative learning?

Cooperative learning is a great learning tool that allows all students to learn. Here are some other important skills that students practice when using cooperative learning strategies—which can easily be linked to many of the goals of a student’s IEP:

  • social skills
  • communication skills
  • personal responsibility
  • engagement + attention to task
  • cooperation and personal interdependence
  • peer interaction
  • provide and provide constructive feedback
  • teamwork
  • decision making
  • metacognition
  • promotes success
  • builds self-confidence and motivation

How to use cooperative learning?

There are lots of cooperative learning techniques, but here are 5 cooperative learning strategies for special education classrooms to get you started:

1. Talk and turn

Students have a partner they learn to turn to in cooperative learning, discuss the topic, and face the teacher when time is up. It may be necessary to change partners to keep things interesting for students. To add some movement, students can also stand up and move around to find a partner to help increase attention and engagement.

2. 5 Why (or any number)

The teacher introduces a new topic and the students pair up. On one sheet of paper, students take turns asking a “why” question about a given topic. You can then have students respond to the questions or explore to find the answers.

3. Jigsaw puzzle

Break the activity or task into sub-parts and have students split into groups. Each group member has an assigned role. Students then work to become experts in their particular sub-topic. At the end, all team members come together to share information and knowledge.

4. Question + answer

Half the class gets a question on a piece of paper and the other half gets an answer on a piece of paper. They must work together to find the correct answer to each question and form a pair.

You can even have students do a cooperative learning activity before the lesson, then teach the lesson and have students check their answers in class after the activity.

5. Think Pair Share

After the teacher provides a lesson, question, or shares an idea, students are given time to think and write down their thoughts or answers. After thinking for a while, students pair up to share what they wrote.

In cooperative learning, ownership of teaching and learning is shared by groups of students and is no longer the sole responsibility of the teacher. You can use the strategies at any time, and cooperative learning is great for quickly assessing students.

Do you use cooperative learning in your classroom? Tell us how you do it in the comments!


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