Collaborative Learning Strategies

Building collaboration in your classroom could begin with recognizing that some of the tasks you already ask your students to engage in could be done collaboratively.  Solving a problem, practicing a skill, evaluating an idea or creating a product can all be done as collaborative activities.  Deciding how to do this may involve thinking of a simple strategy or a more complex one.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

Some simple strategies

These simple ideas can be used within a lesson, rather than setting up a longer-term project, but involve a number of the elements of effective collaborative learning.

  • Think-Pair-Share.  Give students time to consider an idea or a problem by themselves, then discuss with a partner before sharing their combined ideas to a larger group.
  • Placemat. Each student records their own idea on their section of the “placemat” before discussing these as a group and writing their combined response in the center.
  • Round-table.  Students contribute their thoughts regarding an idea or problem, then pass the paper on to another student to add their ideas.  Several papers with different topics or questions can be circulating around the class at the same time. One student is then responsible for summarizing the input of the whole class.

Interpretive or Processing Strategies

These strategies involve students in processing information provided to them then presenting their understanding in some form.

  • Role play.  Students script and perform a dialogue that illustrates or applies what they have been learning. An extension of this could be to hold a “town hall” type meeting, where small groups of students represent different stake-holders in the issue being discussed.  For example, in a business studies unit on multinational corporations, I gave students a scenario of an oil company wanting to set up in a developing country. I allocated some students to represent the company, some were local businesses or community groups, and others represented the local or national government. We had a lively “discussion” about the pros and cons of allowing the multinational in and produced a “contract” outlining the agreed upon terms and conditions.
  • News Report.  Have your students work as journalistic teams producing a news report (for a newspaper, news website, or TV) about an historical event or a current issue.
  • Detective report.  Present teams of student “detectives” with a package of evidence that they need to use to solve a scientific or historical question, then prepare a report outlining their conclusions.

Research Strategies

These strategies involve students working together to collect, analyze and apply information.

  • Jigsaw.  Each group of students becomes an “expert” in a particular aspect of the issue being researched. The groups then reform with an expert from each topic in each of the new groups. These new groups then work together to design a solution to the question or problem, drawing on the knowledge of each expert.  For example, I gave a social studies class studying medieval Europe a project to design the best castle.  Each student became an expert in geography, architecture or military strategy, then worked with one expert in each of the other areas to design their castle and explain its worthy features.
  • Inquiry-based projects.  Student groups pose a relevant and challenging question that they want to find a solution to, design and carry out an investigation to answer the question, and present their solution to an authentic audience.

What other collaborative strategies have you tried? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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