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Teaching Strategies: Use Cooperative Learning to Stimulate Class Discussions

Janelle Cox

Do you find that your students’ classroom discussions lack substance? Are you having a hard time getting your shy students to talk when they are working in large groups? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you have to try using cooperative learning teaching strategies. Strategies like the Think-Pair-Share allow students to open up and discuss a concept in a comfortable learning environment. These teaching strategies set the stage for shy students to feel comfortable discussing concepts with first a partner, then the whole class. Cooperative learning is a commonly used strategy in many of today’s classrooms. It’s based upon the idea that students learn best through social contexts. Teaching strategies like the one mentioned above have students think to themselves about a concept or question posed by the teacher, then pair up and share with a classmate what they are thinking about the topic. Not only are students engaged in a discussion with their partner, but they also get the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas that they have gathered on the topic with the whole class. This then turns into a whole class discussion where every child is engaged and participating.

How These Teaching Strategies Transform Classroom Discussions

By using a cooperative learning strategy, you are essentially creating group situations where students have no choice but to interact and converse with one another. Part of its success is through the interactions that students have with one another in the group.  Students learn from each other’s skills and experiences. Instead of trying to pry your students to have a meaningful discussion, using one of the cooperative learning strategies can foster their interaction and motivation to speak within their group.  Furthermore, cooperative learning groups encourage students to think outside of the box and beyond their own perspective. When this happens your classroom discussions will improve.

Cooperative Learning Strategies

There are many popular cooperative learning strategies that teachers have found to be effective. As far as using them to transform your classroom discussions, a few of them outshine the rest. Here are the best strategies to keep students engaged in meaningful classroom discussions.

Think-Pair-Share

Think-Pair-Share is a great strategy to use to get the conversation flowing because it forces the students to talk and discuss the topic at hand. There are a few ways that you can use this strategy, the first being with just a partner, then the whole group. The second is with a partner then a small group. Whichever way you choose, the overall steps are the same.

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  • Pose a question for the students to discuss.
  • Students first think about it alone.
  • Put students into groups or pairs.
  • Students then discuss the question in their groups or pairs.
  • Students discuss with whole group or small group.

Round Robin

Another great discussion starter strategy is the Round Robin. This is where the teacher poses a problem to which there are multiple solutions or responses. Then students take turns stating their solution or response to the posed problem. This strategy is great for teambuilding and can really help to transform the way your students talk with one another. Round Robin offers students the opportunity to express their opinions in a comfortable atmosphere while being able to listen to their peers perspectives as well.

Talking Chips

The Talking Chips strategy positions the students so that each student within the group gets an equal opportunity to speak. Break students into groups and assign a discussion leader (for each discussion question the leader can change). The discussion leader’s job is to give each student within the group three plastic chips (or as many as you want). Then the teacher poses a question to all of the students, and if a student would like to respond or contribute to the conversation, they must place one of their chips into a plastic cup that is in the middle of the table. Each student is not allowed to speak unless they have placed their chip in the cup. When students run out of chips, they must just sit and listen quietly until all of the chips are in the cup. Once all of the chips are in the cup the discussion leader can pass them out again and the discussion can continue. Students can use a talking chip to give an idea, ask a question, express a feeling, respond to an idea, or ask for clarification.

Many teachers find that team-based learning is an effective way to get their students to have more meaningful conversations because of the small, intimate learning groups. Most students feel more comfortable speaking because they are in the small groups. When students feel at ease, they are more likely to let their guard down which can then transform the way your classroom discussions will flow.

Do you have any cooperative learning teaching strategies that work well in discussion groups? What are your favorites? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

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 Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.