Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning activities develop soft skills that enable your students to interact in a healthy and productive way with others. In this article, we explain the difference between cooperative and collaborative learning, and provide you with activity ideas that develop a sense of cooperation in your students.


What is cooperative learning?

Cooperation is the action of participating in a collective project by creating the necessary relationships with others to achieve the desired goal. It is the opposite of competition, which is the simultaneous attempt to achieve the same goal, which includes an element of rivalry. Cooperative learning is therefore a teaching approach that encourages mutual support between learners, who work together to achieve a common goal. The activity is carried out in small, heterogenous (students with different skills and interests) groups. 

Each member has a well-defined role and is responsible for a small part of the collective project. Each person can be a source of information, motivation and support for the other team members. In cooperative learning, there is a sharing of knowledge, experience and authority.

Cooperative learning is more unifying and involving than collaborative learning, since team members are interdependent, and the group is responsible for achieving the goal, which is the same for everyone. What’s more, conflict and competition are not allowed! The basis of cooperation is mutual respect: you work with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, based on complementarity. The goal of cooperative learning is to develop learners’ autonomy and maturity so that they can ultimately be able to cooperate.

As for collaborative learning, team members are like independent associates who carry out their individual tasks in their own way, autonomously. The basis of collaboration is confidence in the abilities of others. The primary difference between the two types of learning is the learners’ degree of independence and maturity, which is much higher in the collaborative mode.

Cooperative approach

Skills and qualities developed

While working on cooperative learning projects, students are expected to demonstrate soft as well as problem solving skills.  They learn to:

  • Structure their collective work
  • Take responsibility by carrying out the specific task assigned to them
  • Practise active listening (speaking in turn) and express their differences of opinion respectfully
  • Share authority and the management role
  • Re-evaluate their work after other group members review it (accept constructive criticism)
  • Resolve difficult situations without creating conflict
  • Give each other advice
  • Help each other and share information
  • Motivate each other


The teacher’s role

After selecting the activity and determining the method of evaluation, the teacher explains to the students that they are participating in a cooperative learning activity, then defines what team cooperation is.  It is beneficial to get the students interested in this way of learning in order to motivate them. Team are then formed: in the lower primary grades, teams of two students are ideal, while in higher primary grades and in secondary school, teams of four are effective to foster cooperative learning.

The teach then explains the goals and rules of the chosen activity. Together, team members decide the roles each will play, the tasks for each, as well as the work process that will be used to achieve the common goal.

The teacher then acts as an observer, mediator and external resource during the interactive learning process. They ensure that the students try to achieve the goals themselves by mutually supporting each other and acting as resources. The teacher can intervene if the students need it. The more autonomous the students are in their collective project, the more the teacher can let them lead their activity.

A final evaluation of the collective activity (and not individual evaluations) will be done after completion, either by the teams themselves (self-evaluation of the process and result), or by the teacher.


Examples of in-school cooperative activities

Cooperative learning encompasses any learning activity that is carried out by a group of learners with a common goal, who explore a subject or participate in a project to improve their skills. Cooperative learning activities can be based on any academic subject (French, math, science, etc.).

Here are a few examples of cooperative activities:

  1. Create language workshops by including a student who speaks a language other than French or English in the teams. Have students produce a written assignment and an oral presentation that the multilingual student translates into their native language as it is being developed.
  2. Create team projects based on your students’ passions and interests.
  3. Teams create a mini-company (co-op) by initially defining the terms “cooperative” and “cooperative entrepreneurship,” then they decide how it will operate.
  4. Brainstorming activity: Suggest a topic for the teams to brainstorm on, where they should express all the ideas that come to mind about the given subject. Make it clear that no criticism or opposition should be expressed during the process. Then the students should summarize by grouping the primary and secondary ideas together. Topics could include: How can we protect the environment and why should we? What should you prepare before going on a trip? What is urban agriculture and why is it practised ?
  5. Discussion circle: Students discuss topics based on social, artistic or other current events, allowing each to express themselves in turn. Ideally, each group should include five students or less.
  6. Position taking: The teacher gives each team a question about a topic that requires a position to be taken (agree, strongly agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Students share the reasons for their position with the other members of their team, while explaining their arguments.


The Vireo hydroponic garden project

A school garden gives your students access to a cooperative learning project during the entire school year. With gardening duties, students work in a team towards a common goal. They develop soft skills that will serve them throughout their lives, especially in the workplace!

Subsidies are available to acquire the Vireo hydroponic garden. Support is also offered to teachers to get the project started. Contact a Vireo representative for more information! We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.