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What are Cooperative Learning Structures?

Structures are very specific cooperative learning strategies that teachers can use to organize interactions between students. Most structures can be used with almost any academic content, but some structures are better than others for certain tasks. Some structures regulate interaction between pairs, some are best for team work, and others involve the entire class. The key is learning which structure is best-suited for a particular instructional purpose.

Spencer Kagan has developed over 100 cooperative learning structures. Most people never learn all the structures; they just get comfortable with 10 or 15 structures and use those on a regular basis. Each cooperative learning structure, or strategy, consists of specific steps. You'll find the steps of a sample structure, Numbered Heads Together, described below. Below that, you'll also find some ways to use Numbered Heads Together in your classroom.

To learn more about structures, read Cooperative Learning by Spencer Kagan. It's the best resource around for cooperative learning, and it clearly explains almost 100 structures!

Sample Structure: Numbered Heads Together

Steps of Numbered Heads Together

  1. Number students off from 1 to 4 within their teams.
  2. Call out a question or problem. (Example: Where do plants get their energy?)
  3. Students in teams put their heads together to discuss the answer. They must make sure everyone on the team knows the answer.
  4. Randomly call a number from 1 to 4 (use a spinner, draw popsicle sticks out of a cup, roll a die, etc.)
  5. On each team, the student whose number was called writes the answer on the team response board. They may not receive any help from their team at this point! If they didn't pay attention during the discussion, too bad! They place the response board face down when ready.
  6. When all teams are ready, have the designated student stand and hold up their response board to show their answer. Check each team's answer for accuracy.
  7. Repeat with additional questions as time allows.

Ideas for Using Numbered Heads in Your Class

Favorite Structures

Remember that Numbered Heads Together is just ONE structure from a complete list that numbers over a hundred! One key to effective cooperative learning is knowing which structure to use in a given situation. It's like having tools in a toolbox. All the tools are worthwhile, but some are useless or even dangerous in some situations! Visit Kagan Online to learn more structures. Some of my favorites include:


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