St. Edward's University
Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning activities are carefully structured learning activities in which students are held accountable for their individual contributions, participation, and learning. Students are also provided incentives to work as a team in teaching and learning from each other.

The purpose of cooperative learning groups is to make each member a stronger individual in his or her own right. Individual Accountability is the key to ensuring that all group members are in fact strengthened by learning cooperatively. Learning outcomes promoted by cooperative learning have been successful. One of the most important elements of cooperative learning involves assessing learning outcomes using both group and individual evaluations.

David Johnson, Roger Johnson, and Karl Smith provide a number of ideas that help in structuring cooperative learning activities.

Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning

Positive Interdependence

Students perceive that they need each other in order to complete the group's task ("sink or swim together"). Teachers may structure positive interdependence by establishing mutual goals (Learn and make sure all other group members learn), joint reward (if all group members achieve above the criteria, each will receive bonus points), shared resources (one paper for each group or each member receives part of the required information), and assigned roles (summarizer, encourager of participation, elaborator).

Face-to-Face Promotive Interaction

Students promote each other's learning by helping, sharing, and encouraging efforts to learn. Students explain, discuss, and teach what they know to classmates. Teachers structure the groups so that students sit knee-to-knee and talk through each aspect of the assignment.

Individual Accountability

Each student's performance is frequently assessed and the results are given to the group and the individual. Teachers may structure individual accountability by giving an individual test to each student or randomly selecting one group member to give the answer.

Interpersonal and Small Group Skills

Groups cannot function effectively if students do not have and use the needed social skills. Teachers teach these skills as purposefully and precisely as academic skills. Collaborative and cooperative skills include leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills.

Group Processing

Groups need specific time to discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships among members. Teachers structure group processing by assigning such tasks as (a) list at least three members actions that helped the group be successful and (b) list one action that could be added to make the group more successful tomorrow. Teachers also monitor the groups and give feedback on how well the groups are working together to the groups and the class as a whole.

from: Johnson, D.W. and Johnson, R. (1989) Cooperation and Competition. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.

Individual Accountability

Individual accountability results from highly structured cooperative learning activities which ensure that every student in a group participates equitably and meets the learning objectives.

Ways of Setting Individual Accountability

  • Random checking
  • Individual Tests
  • Assigning Roles
  • Jigsaw
  • Signatures on Paper
  • Signed Parts of Work
  • Round Robin Papers
  • Round Robin Answers
  • Individual Work Before
  • Individual Work After
  • Demonstrated Skills Checked
  • Discussion of Labor List Signed
  • See Everyone Participate
  • Give a Practice Test
  • Have Them Explain Answers
  • Have Them Edit Each Other's Work
  • Have Them Teach it to Someone Else

Cooperative Learning Groups

  • One set of answers from the group
  • Everyone must agree
  • Everyone must be able to explain the group's answers


  • Reader
  • Recorder
  • Checker/Quizzer
  • Encourager/participation police


Collaborative and Cooperative Skills


  • Make a plan
  • Disagree in a constructive way
  • Use a variety of ways to decide
  • Combine ideas to get a new idea
  • Get many ideas before deciding
  • Show respect for minority views
  • Summarize all ideas or alternatives before deciding
  • Work until you reach consensus


  • Listen to one another
  • Ask questions
  • Follow directions
  • Ask for help
  • Give help when asked
  • Share your opinion
  • Give reasons for your opinion
  • Give accurate directions/information
  • Extend others' ideas
  • Paraphrase what someone else has said

Forming and Norming

  • Move quietly to and from groups
  • Stay with your group
  • Use each other's names
  • Organize materials
  • Clean up materials
  • Share materials
  • Include each other


Learning Outcomes Promoted by Cooperative Learning
  • Higher achievement and increased retention
  • More frequent higher-level reasoning, deeper-level understanding, and critical thinking
  • Greater achievement motivation and intrinsic motivation to learn
  • Greater ability to view situations from other perspectives
  • More positive, accepting, and supportive relationships with peers regardless of ethnic, sex, ability, social class, or handicap differences
  • Greater social support
  • More positive attitudes toward professors
  • More positive attitudes toward subject areas, learning, and college
  • Greater psychological health, adjustment, and well-being
  • More positive self-esteem based on basic self-acceptance
  • Greater social competencies
Books on Cooperative Learning available in the CTE library

Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom by: D.W. Johnson, R.T. Johnson, & K.A. Smith

Charting Your Course: How to Prepare to Teach More Effectively by: Richard Pregent

Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education by: A. Goodsell, M. Maher, & V. Tinto

Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research by: D.W. Johnson & R.T. Johnson

Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity by: Johnson, Johnson and Smith

Enhancing Thinking Through Cooperative Learning edited by: Davidson, N., & Worsham, T.

Student Te../m Learning: A Practical Guide to Cooperative Learning by: Robert E. Slavin