Sunday, November 12, 2017


Our school encourages us to use Cooperative Learning techniques in the classroom.

Research shows cooperative learning helps to produce:

  • Higher achievement
  • Increased retention
  • More positive relationships and a wider circle of friends
  • Greater intrinsic motivation
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater social support
  • More on-task behavior
  • Better attitudes toward teachers
  • Better attitudes toward school

Some of the Cooperative Learning structures we use are:

  • Pass the Paper (a version of Round Robin)
  • Pencils in the Middle
  • Three-Minute Stop (or Three-Minute Review)
  • 1-2-4
  • Shared Reading
  • Jigsaw Groups

Most of these structures have to be modified according to the age of the students if you want to use them in preschool or kindergarten. With some common sense and creativity, you will be able to put them in practice and reap the benefits of cooperative learning.

Here’s an example of how I use Pass the Paper and Pencils in the Middle with my 5-year-olds. For both activities, students were divided in groups of five.

We were learning PARTS OF THE BODY and HALLOWEEN was approaching, so I thought a monster-related activity would be perfect.

First, we used Pass the Paper  to draw the monsters body. I gave each team this worksheet with the monsters head and torso. Each group only had one worksheet so they were drawing the same monster.


They had to draw the rest of the body parts, one by one. For example, one kid would say: “arms”, and she would draw the monster’s arms. Then she would pass the paper and the next kid would say: “eyes”, and he would draw the monster’s eyes, and so on.

The rules were simple:

  • Name the body part you are going to draw
  • Don’t repeat the body part if someone else has already drawn it
  • Don’t waste time
  • Make it look like a monster (kids have a natural inclination to draw 2 eyes, 1 nose, 2 arms, 2 legs… and make it look like a person. You need to insist that they make and odd number of body parts to make the monster look “funny”.)

While working with this technique, kids have to be alert to see what the rest of the group are drawing, and to be able to help if someone doesn’t remember a word in English. At the same time, some have to learn to inhibit their desire to tell others what to do, and to wait patiently for their turn.

I though the resulting pictures were very nice and creative.

Monster  (1)Monster  (2)Monster  (4)Monster  (5)Monster  (6)

For our next lesson, I made a copy of the monster for each member of the group. This time, we used Pencils in the Middle to colour the monster in. Make sure each group has crayons of each colour for everyone.

First, I asked everyone a question: “What colour are the monsters legs?” Then, each group had to decide on the colour. After the decision had been made, they could start colouring. When I saw that almost everyone had finished, I called “pencils in the middle”. At that moment, students had to put their pencils away and put their hands behind their backs (this helps them inhibit the impulse to grab the first colour they think of before the group decision has been made). I would ask another question like: “What colour are the monsters ears?”, and so on, until the monsters are coloured-in.

The rules for this structure are:

  • Use indoor voices
  • Everyone participates in the decision making and uses the same colours
  • Don’t waste time
  • If you haven’t finished colouring when I call “pencils in the middle”, you’ll have time at the end of the activity

While working with this technique, kids learn to compromise, come to an agreement and cooperate.

These are the resulting monsters:

IMG_8954             IMG_8953


It is not easy to use these structures with little kids for the first time, you’ll have to invest time in explaining the rules and even then you’ll need to remind them constantly what to do. My students have been using Pass the Paper for two years now, and Pencils in the Middle, since last year, so they’ve had some practice.

If you decide to use Cooperative Learning in your classroom, you’ll have to be patient and persistent at first, but I assure you, as your students get older, they will reap the benefits of this active learning methodology.

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