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.
Dr. Spencer Kagan has developed over 100 structures, but you don't need to learn them all to use cooperative learning effectively. Most teachers have 10 or 15 favorites that they use 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
(Shared from Cooperative Learning with permission from Dr. Spencer Kagan)
Steps of Numbered Heads Together
- Number students off from 1 to 4 within their teams.
- Call out a question or problem. (Example: Where do plants get their energy?)
- Students in teams put their heads together to discuss the answer. They must make sure everyone on the team knows the answer.
- Randomly call a number from 1 to 4 (use a spinner, draw popsicle sticks out of a cup, roll a die, etc.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat with additional questions as time allows.
Ideas for Using Numbered Heads in Your Class
- Science - Reviewing for a test, discussing experiment results,
- Math - Solving word problems, reviewing geometric shapes, reviewing terms like prime number, multiple
- Health - Reviewing parts of the body and body systems, discussing the food pyramid, discussing issues related to drugs and violence
- Spelling - Practicing the spellings and definitions of words, creating sentences when given a word
- Reading - Discussing setting, plot, theme, characters of a book; listing character traits of various characters in a book; finding the main idea of articles in Weekly Reader or Scholastic News magazines; reviewing poetic terms (onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.); finding examples of poetic devices in poems
- Writing - Revising and editing written work samples (place work sample on overhead, students put heads together to discuss specific errors in punctuation, spelling, etc.)
- Grammar - Finding nouns, verbs, etc, in sentences; reviewing common versus proper nouns; plural versus possessive nouns; diagramming sentences
- Social Studies - Learning about the stock market; practicing map skills, answering chapter discussion questions, reviewing for a test
- Primary Grades - Reviewing basic shapes and colors, reviewing initial consonant sounds, working with rhyming words, answering questions about a read-aloud book, deciding when to add or subtract with math word problems, naming a pattern (AB, ABC, ABB, etc.), spelling simple words, discussing the results of an experiment, making up sentences with a given word, reviewing the parts of a plant, discussing the events of the day, talking about the calendar
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:
- Team Interview
- Line Ups
- Teammates Consult
- Find Someone Who