Activities for Cooperative Learning

by Jason Anderson
Delta Publishing 2019

As the title suggests, this book is based on the principles of cooperative learning, a concept that is explained thoroughly in the introduction. A distinction is made between collaborative learning (the use of pairwork, groupwork and any activity in which the students work together – with the possibility that stronger or more dominant students may do most of the work) and cooperative learning, which embodies two key principles: positive independence (group members work together towards a shared goal, not in competition, and must sink or swim together) and individual accountability (group success depends on contributions from all the students, who are each accountable, not only for their own learning, but also for that of their fellow group members). The author makes it clear that the design of an activity is crucial to promoting a combination of positive independence and individual accountability, and he has made sure that he practises what he preaches in the design and construction of the activities in this book.

Although it is tempting just to plunge in and try out the activities with your students, I would recommend reading the introduction carefully first, as it gives much information about the reasoning behind cooperative learning and many ideas for how to make it work successfully in your classroom. It is also worth taking a look at the cooperative learning assessment form at the end of the introduction. Using this with your students will make it clear to them precisely what it is that you expect from them when they are working on a cooperative learning activity (eg being polite and friendly to their classmates, listening to their classmates’ ideas and letting them finish before speaking, helping classmates who have difficulties, listening carefully to feedback). Some of these are things that the students may not have thought about before. Having to give themselves a score from 1–5 on the various points and comparing this with the score that their teacher gives them may be a salutary exercise!

The rest of the book is divided into eight chapters. Chapter 1 concentrates on strategies and tools rather than specific activities, but the seven chapters that follow are full of activity suggestions, with photocopiable elements. The chapters are organised according to type (eg Chapter 2 has pairwork activities, Chapter 3 has activities where the students start in pairs and then form groups, Chapter 4 has teamwork activities). Each activity within a chapter is preceded by a summary (with a chart of the main skills and functions involved), a list of key advantages and a section of important notes and variations. These ensure that the teacher is fully prepared before embarking on any activity. The activities themselves have clear step-by-step preparation and procedural notes, plus ideas for extension tasks. The level of each task, together with the age of the students for which it is suitable (mainly teens to adults, and quite precisely specified), the amount of time it will take and the grammar and lexis that it practises, are given in a shaded bar at the start of the preparation notes.

I particularly like the activities in Chapter 8 (Flipped cooperative learning) where the students do research activities at home before coming together in pairs or groups for more interactive tasks. It seems to me that some of these would be ideal for online teaching during the Covid-19 lockdown. The teacher could assign the research elements to be done outside class time and then bring the pairs or groups of students together in breakout rooms during an online lesson to pool their information and complete the task. Other activities throughout the book could also be made to work well in online classes.

All in all, I think this is an excellent resource book which many teachers will want to use. The activities are not only interesting, but also very well presented, with good explanations and clear stages set out to follow.

Vanessa Willis, Exeter, UK