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Cooperative Learning Structures
Communication Skills
Roles & Responsibilities
Classroom Design Patterns


Ervin F. Sparapani
Saginaw Valley State University


Lecture | Questioning/Discussion | Team Teaching | Thematic Teaching | Integrated Curriculum | Cooperative Learning


Cooperative Learning! A fascinating concept. Humans are social beings. Transescents are Very social beings. Seemingly, then, cooperative learning would be an excellent fit for the middle level classroom. What better place than in the middle level classroom for young people to begin learning to cooperate. Yet, it carries so much controversy. Some people really like it ... others have no use for it, and this group includes students, parents, and teachers. The problem with cooperative learning is that often people don't understand how it's supposed to function as a learning (or teaching) strategy.

In order for cooperative learning to be effective, the teacher needs to keep three things in mind. First, students are often concerned that not everyone in the group does an equal amount of the work and because of that an individual's grade will suffer. Teachers need to set clear expectations for the cooperative learning task. Second, it is also important that teachers are familiar with the various cooperative learning structures and their uses, as well as, third, requisite communication skills, roles and responsibilities, and classroom design patterns.

It is well known that middle level classrooms are social places. Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy that allows for verbal interaction, i.e., socializing. It is my opinion that cooperative learning, although certainly not the only teaching strategy used in a middle level classroom, for a lot of reasons should be a teacher's main strategy.


The purpose for this module of the Instructional Practices section, then, is to provide teachers with the knowledge for using cooperative learning effectively in the classroom. When the module is finished, you will be able to (1) identify some of the main cooperative learning structures, (2) explain the communication skills necessary for effective cooperative groups, (3) explain the roles and responsibilities used in cooperative groups, and (4) select an appropriate classroom design pattern for implementing a variety of cooperative learning structures.

Module Description

The module has five sections, shown immediately to the left. The cooperative learning structures section provides an overview of the many cooperative designs that are available. Although not all the designs are reviewed, most are. The communication skills section gives a description of the skills necessary for appropriate interaction behaviors (i.e., skills needed to work cooperatively) when in a cooperative group. The roles and responsibilities section provides an explanation of the roles necessary for effective group practice. The classroom designs section shows classroom designs that are commonly used and interaction patterns within those designs. The activity section is where you will be asked to apply the knowledge from the previous four sections to a classroom setting.

To navigate through the module simply select (by clicking on) one of the sections, and you will be transferred immediately to that section. Although it is not necessary to do so, it is suggested that you go through the sections in the order shown, at least the first time through.

Remember, for cooperative learning to be an effective instructional practice, you (the teacher) must have a good understanding of how cooperative learning is supposed to function as an instructional practice, and the students need to have a good understanding of how they are expected to behave in a cooperative group setting. Enjoy the module!