Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

Both cooperative and collaborative learning are based on the idea that it is through talk that learning occurs. When groups of learners work together to solve a problem, complete a task, create a product, or discuss a single problem with a partner, they are involved in cooperative learning.

Although collaborative and cooperative learning are often used synonymously, cooperative learning is actually a specific kind of collaborative learning in which students work together in small groups on a structured activity. That structure ensures that each person’s task is essential to the success of the group.

Cooperative learning (CL) is more than just a method in which students help each other learn the same thing, or one in which some students do the lion’s share of the work. Through cooperative learning tasks teachers can personalize student learning while challenging each individual to work toward the success of the group.



Teachers can:

  • differentiate tasks within a group by complexity and/or quantity

  • provide scaffolds as needed for students within the context of the group

  • match tasks to just a bit above students’ readiness level.

Respectful tasks

Although tasks can differ in depth and complexity, each person’s task is essential to the success of the group.

All students are engaged in learning activities that are relevant and interesting.

Flexible groupings

Cooperative and collaborative learning is based on flexible heterogeneous groupings.

Ability groups can be formed as needed, e.g. in a jigsaw activity a group of students might work with a teacher to prepare the information they will share when they return to their respective home groups.


Many collaborative activities involve student choice.

Group investigation is a cooperative learning activity in which students form interest groups based on what they want to study, plan how to research their topic and present their findings to the class.

Assessment for learning

Teachers have many opportunities to gather evidence of thinking and learning when students are working in collaborative groups. Teachers use this information to modify teaching and learning experiences while students are in the process of learning.


Johnson and Johnson offer more information about the basic elements of cooperative learning.

Jigsaw Cooperative Learning Technique is a strategy guide for grades 3 to 8 offered by the NCTE’s Read Write Think website.

Read more about Collaborative Learning in the Talk section of Literacy Today.


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