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Special Article

Using Cooperative Structures in the Writing Classroom

Melanie Willette

To cite this article: Willette, M. Using Cooperative Structures in the Writing Classroom. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #58. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Often in Cooperative Learning workshops, teachers pose queries about how to use the structures within their content. One of the more frequent lines of questioning involves how teachers can teach writing using Kagan Structures. Because writing seems a solitary endeavor, cooperative structures seem anathema to the process. Yet Dr. Kagan points out in in his book Brain-Friendly Teaching, “Brains have a social cognition network we can activate to make our content more meaningful and more memorable” (p.3.3).

In other words, we know that students can write to learn, and we can increase the power of that experience by providing opportunities for students to interact with each other as they write. Furthermore, Dr. Kagan also proposes that “Any time we have students try to figure out the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of another person, the social cognition system goes into action, and we release the power of the social encoding advantage” (3.22). Thus, in incorporating cooperative structures in the writing process, we create an environment in which students feel safe to write, to offer helpful suggestions to peers, and to reward the efforts of their peers with encouragement and praise.

Writing is a process. What follows are suggested structures that can be used at various stages of the writing process.


The first step in any writing assignment is for students to have a clear idea about what their topic will be or what their position is about a topic.

Talking Chips can be used for students to discuss topics about which they will write or to provide an opportunity to verbally rehearse a position on a topic prior to writing on a persuasive topic.

Jot Thoughts can be used to generate initial ideas, as well as to generate textual support for chosen ideas for a text-based response.

First Draft

In Writing with a Purpose, Joseph F. Trimmer defines the drafting stage as “a series of strategies designed to organize and develop a sustained piece of writing” (p.5).

Simultaneous RoundTable is effective to help students get started—often the most challenging part of the writing process! Simultaneous RoundTable is an effective structure for drafting because students can read each other’s drafts and write suggestions. Teachers can guide students through four rounds of reading each other’s text. For example, each student on the team passes his/her paper one student to the right and the teacher asks students to read the beginning paragraph and highlight the thesis statement of their own paper. The first round students can add an example to support the idea; the second round students can offer a statement of commentary; the third round students can offer a possible source for the writer to consult.

Pass and Praise/Coach may be used as each student passes the paper to the right. The receiving student reads the addition from his/her teammate and praises the teammate’s addition.


Use RallyCoach for any stage of the writing process!

In the text Writing Workshop by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi, the authors suggest that “rereading is the glue that connects the stages of writing.” Jeff Anderson calls it “an invitation to notice” in Everyday Editing. When students reread their own writing, they are able to notice where more clarity is needed in their writing.

RallyCoach is the perfect structure to use at the revision stage of an essay. Purposely paired students sit side-by-side with one essay between them. The author of the essay reads his/her work aloud to his/her partner, making corrections as needed. Before a correction can be applied, however, the student must receive an “okay” from the coach. Students can complete four rounds, as directed by the teacher. For example, the first round students read for hooks, then transitions, voice, figurative language, etc. To ensure individual accountability, students can color-code each round. Once one paper is completed, the pair repeats the process with the second paper.

StandUp-HandUp-PairUp with a Timed Pair Share is a structure that can put another set of eyes to a paragraph/essay as a follow–up to RallyCoach, with students sharing revised ideas with a new partner.

Works Cited

Anderson, J. Everyday Editing. Portland: Stenhouse, 2007. Print.

Fletcher, R. & Portalupi, J. Writing Workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2201. Print.

Kagan, S. Brain-Friendly Teaching. San Clemente: Kagan, 2014. Print.

Trimmer, J. F. Writing with a Purpose. 13th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print.