It’s imperative that students engage with each other in meaningful ways, and one way to help them do that is to play cooperative learning games. Weaving games into lesson plans is a great way to improve engagement and help students develop critical thinking skills. It also provides students with a chance to develop their communication skills and learn to work within a team cooperatively rather than competitively.

What is Cooperative Learning?

Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy where small groups of students work together to reach a common goal. Sometimes students are individually responsible for a specific part within the group and other times they are held accountable as an entire group. True cooperative learning groups value teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Research shows that cooperative learning helps to build positive relationships among students and helps to produce higher self-esteem as well as the development of both learning and social skills.

Cooperative Classroom Games to Try with Your Students

The objective in cooperative learning games is for all members of the team to succeed. Students work together (no one gets left out) to discuss strategies in order to solve the given challenge. Here is a complied list of cooperative games for every grade level.

Grades K-2

Picture Talk

This cooperative learning game can be played with students of all ages but is highly recommended for young students because it’s a lot like show-and-tell. This game can also be played in the classroom where all students sit in a circle or virtually. The objective of the game is to creatively collaborate on a story using a photograph. Students will need to focus and listen intensely in order to be able to participate. To begin, the teacher will show a photograph (this can be of anything, an animal, object, person, etc.) then begin telling a story that incorporates the photograph. The next student in the circle or virtually will continue the story using their photograph. Each student gets about one minute to share their story, then the game continues until every student has had a turn.

Stand Up and Spell

Tell students they are going to spell the word “School” as a class. One student stands up and says the first letter. Then a different student stands up and says the next letter, and so on until they spell the word. Any student can stand up at any time, but if two students stand up at the same time, then they lose. This game can be played in-person at a desk or virtually. You can also use any word.

Grades 3-5

Cooperative Counting

You can play this game with students of all ages but it’s especially ideal for older elementary students because this game takes patience, focus, and concentration. It also can be played virtually with the camera off/on as well as in person. The objective of the game is to count to 20 (or higher) as a group. Someone must start by saying the number one, then someone else will say number two and so on in no assigned order. However, if two people speak at the same time then the game must start over at the beginning. Depending on the size of your class you can require that everyone must get a turn so you may want to change the end number. You can also challenge students to see how high they can count. After the game, ask students to reflect by sharing what they could have done better as a group.

Vocabulary Circle

This is an easy game that can be played virtually or in-person. Begin by the first player saying a word, then the next player must say a word using the last letter of the word the first player just said. For example, the first word is “apple” then the next word is “egg” and so on. The goal is to get through the entire class without messing up so it’s important that students listen very carefully. If you want to make it more challenging, you can give students a topic to focus on, such as “types of food” or “animals”.

Grades 6-8

It’s a Mystery

Who doesn’t love to solve a good mystery? This cooperative game is perfect for middle schoolers because this age group loves to work together with their friends. What’s great about this game is that it can be played both in the classroom or virtually. If you are playing virtually, students can go into break out rooms with their groups to discuss clues to help them solve the mystery. If you are playing in the classroom, students can work together and move from one area to the next to uncover new clues. To begin you must first think of a mystery for students to solve, then come up with clues. A fun idea is to have students find a hidden object within a picture to unlock a new clue. Another idea is to have students solve a rebus puzzle. Each group works together communicating as they problem-solve their way to solving the mystery.

Mental Telepathy

This game challenges students to work together, either in-person or virtually, to figure out what answer you are thinking. To begin pose a question and tell students there are two possible answers and they must use telepathy to read the teacher’s mind and guess the correct answer.

Grades 9-12

5 Word Story

You are going to tell a class story and in order to participate each student must listen carefully. The object of the game is to build upon the story, but the catch is that you can only say five words. Before you begin, make sure that all students know the speaking order. If you are in the classroom, you can position students appropriately; if you are virtual, tell students the order in which they will speak. Start the story and hold up your hand and raise one finger for each word. Next, que the student who is next to continue the story. While this game can be played at any age/grade level, this specific game for high school students should be played by having students retell a story or article they are currently learning. For example, if you just had students read an article from the newspaper, they can retell that article together as a class using the “5 Word Story” game.

Teacher: Today’s article talked about how

Student one: The CDC is recommending that

Students two: people continue to wear their

Students three: masks because it is very

Connect This

This is a great team-building activity for high school students and can be played virtually or in-person. To begin, provide each team with four different images and ask students to come up with a short story that connects all the objects together. For example, the images can be a person, an object, a location, etc. Give students about 15-20 minutes to discuss and come up with a story, then present their story to the class.

Well-designed cooperative learning games provide opportunities for experiential learning. They also teach valuable lessons of cooperation, collaboration, and communication.

*Updated March 2021