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Teaching Strategies: Use Cooperative Learning to Enhance Participation

Janelle Cox

If you’re looking for more teaching strategies that will enhance student participation in your classroom, then cooperative learning is one to try. Cooperative learning teaching strategies are much more than just having students work together in a group. It’s a structured teaching method where students participate equally in order to complete a task. Students learn to work together while developing essential life skills, like the ability to actively listen and communicate with others. Teachers love to use cooperative learning groups because research has shown that when used in the classroom, it can increase student motivation, which increases student participation.

3 Effective Cooperative Learning Teaching Strategies

Dr. Spencer Kagan, a world renowned author and keynote speaker in the field of education and psychology, developed a structural approach to cooperative learning, where all students can learn to participate equally in group discussions. These teaching strategies were designed so that assertive students wouldn’t dominate the discussion, and other students would have the opportunity to contribute. Here are three of the most popular and effective cooperative learning strategies to get your students actively participating in class.

The Talking Chips Method

Talking chips is a Kagan cooperative learning strategy that not only helps students participate in class discussions, but it also helps develop appropriate social interaction among students working in a group setting. Students develop their listening skills, learn how to take turns, and learn how to better communicate with their peers.

The structure of this strategy is simple: Every student in the group receives three plastic “Talking chips,” and when they would like to contribute to the conversation, they must place one of their chips in the center of the table. Students can use a talking chip to give an idea, ask a question, express a feeling, respond to an idea, or ask for clarification. A discussion leader can be chosen to ensure that the group runs smoothly, and every student isn’t trying to talk and place their chips in the center at the same time.

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The rules for this strategy are simple. Each student is not allowed to speak unless they have placed their chip in the center of the table. When a student runs out of chips, he or she must sit and listen quietly to their peers until all of the chips at the table are gone. Once all of the chips are used, the discussion leader can pass them out again and the discussion can continue. This strategy helps to regulate group discussions and ensures that every student participates equally.

Numbered Heads

The numbered heads strategy promotes discussion as well as help students hold both individual and group accountability. Essentially, it encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning as well to learn from their group members.

This strategy is designed so that each member in the group knows the answer to the question. The way it works is students are put into small groups and each given a number (1, 2, 3, etc.). Then a question is posed, and students must all discuss the question and agree with an answer. Following this, the teacher randomly calls a number and each student with that number must answer for their group. The benefit of this strategy is that it’s flexible, and can be used in a variety of different ways. For example, one student in the group may answer the question, while another may elaborate on why they chose the answer. This is an excellent strategy for enhancing student participation as well as teaching accountability.

The Three-Step Interview

The three-step interview method is a cooperative learning strategy that focuses on developing students’ active listening skills. However, it can also be used to enhance participation by challenging students to work with different students, which will help their communication skills and hopefully encourage them to participate more in classroom discussions.

The three-step interview strategy is a fun way to encourage students to ask questions, share their thinking, and take notes. The strategy is composed of a question-and-answer session where one student is the interviewer and another is the interviewee. However, there is a third student, who is actively listening and taking notes during the entire interview.

The general topic or main question that forms the interview can be anything. The teacher gives a main topic, then the interviewer gets a few minutes to think of the questions they want to ask on that specific topic. The interview then takes place until all of the questions are answered, then the roles are reversed. To ensure structure, have students count off to the number three. For the first round, all of the number ones will be the interviewer, the twos will be the interviewee, and the threes will be the note-takers. Once the first interview is completed, the students rotate, and the number ones get to be the interviewee, and so on. This interview strategy is a great way to enhance student learning and participation.

Cooperative learning groups are a great way to help structure real classroom discussions, because they force students to participate and work with their peers in an informal, comfortable atmosphere. The more students work with their classmates, the more comfortable they’ll become talking and participating in classroom discussions.

What are your favorite strategies to enhance student participation? Do you use any of the cooperative learning strategies mentioned above?  


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the elementary education expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.