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Kagan Cooperative Learning Chapter 1

Lesson Planning


Doesn’t preparation of cooperative learning lessons take too long? If I have to plan complex cooperative lessons, I will have to spend my days teaching and my nights preparing.

Years ago, when cooperative learning was in its infancy, we advocated complex cooperative learning lessons. It was basically a replacement model: “Stop doing traditional lessons and do cooperative learning lessons instead.” At that time, it made sense to advocate complex cooperative learning lesson designs because we had a strong research base supporting their use. What we discovered, however, is that teachers did not have time to spend their days teaching and their nights rewriting their curriculum. It is time-consuming to create Jigsaw worksheets or prepare complex cooperative learning lessons. Initial enthusiasm waned, and teachers dropped cooperative learning. It was a harsh realization: What was proven by research was of little value because it was not consistently implemented.

It was at that point that I made a radical departure from the way cooperative learning was trained. It was the beginning of Kagan Cooperative Learning. All other trainers persisted in training teachers in complex cooperative learning lessons and ways to design cooperative learning lessons. Instead, I began telling teachers not to do cooperative learning lessons! My pet phrase was, “Don’t do cooperative learning lessons; make cooperative learning part of every lesson.” Instead of training teachers how to do a two-week Co-op Co-op or a two-day Jigsaw, I began training teachers how to do a two-minute Timed Pair Share or a one-minute RallyRobin. Rather than telling teachers to throw out their traditional lessons, I was giving them ways to make existing lessons more interactive and engaging.

We still believe in the power of complex cooperative learning lessons (see Chapter 17: Classic Cooperative Learning) and feel there is an important role for cooperative learning lesson planning (see Chapter 14: Planning Cooperative Lessons). Complex, well-designed cooperative learning lessons provide wonderful learning experiences for students that cannot be obtained if we use only the simple structures. But good cooperative learning does not require complex lesson designs, lesson planning, or special preparation of materials. Once a teacher knows and uses the simple structures, every lesson becomes a cooperative learning lesson. An additional benefit of starting with the simple structures is that later, when one does a complex cooperative learning lesson, the simple structures are used as part of those lessons, greatly enhancing outcomes.


Where does cooperative learning fit into my lesson plan?

Teachers using cooperative learning structures do not redesign their lessons, but their lessons get redesigned! How is that possible? In our approach, we do not emphasize cooperative learning lessons; we make cooperative learning part of every lesson by using structures. For example, during the Set for a lesson, a teacher might use a Timed Pair Share to assess prior knowledge or to have students verbalize what they would like to learn. After some initial input, the teacher might have students do a RallyRobin to review the key points. After modeling a skill, the teacher might have students do a RallyCoach to practice and perfect the skill. For closure, the teacher might have students do a Team Statement about what they learned.

Now this sounds like a lot of lesson planning. In fact, the teacher experienced with cooperative learning structures could have done that lesson with little or no lesson planning. The teacher had done Timed Pair Share so often that it was second nature to stop and use it during the set. The teacher knew RallyCoach was a better way to practice and perfect a skill than having students do solo worksheet work. The teacher experienced with the power of a Team Statement naturally gravitated toward that structure for closure. The teacher’s lesson little resembled what the lesson would have been prior to learning the structures. Without any lesson planning—by simply using structures—the lesson was transformed into an actively engaging cooperative learning lesson.

What we are describing is not the starting point in the use of structures; it is where we end up. At first, the teacher might just include an occasional Timed Pair Share. Later, more structures are added, and in the process, otherwise mundane lessons become increasingly powerful cooperative learning lessons.


How often should I use cooperative learning?

There is no one answer to this question. As we train teachers in cooperative learning structures, they gradually increase their repertoire of structures. At first, a teacher may use only an occasional RallyRobin or Timed Pair Share. Seeing the benefits of these simple structures—students are more engaged, like class more, retain more—the teacher begins to use them more often. Later, once these structures become part of the teacher’s repertoire, the teacher begins adding additional structures. So we recommend staying within your comfort zone, beginning with simple structures and using them only on an occasional basis. As you and your students become more comfortable with the structures, you will want to use more structures and use them more often. Teachers experienced with the structures use them on an average every ten minutes, but sometimes the interaction may be as brief as a one-minute RallyRobin or a half-minute Instant Star.