Cooperative Learning Amidst Virtual Learning and Social Distancing

Hi friends. Talk about a learning curve. Every day seems to be a new challenge for teachers, administrators and students…and parents for that matter. I know there must be a cloud of frustration hanging over your head as a teacher…knowing that you could do so much more with your students if there weren’t so many barriers – a computer screen, masks, plexi-glass, social distancing, rules on sharing supplies…etc. It would seem that limitations is the name of the game right now. My heart goes out to you.

So we want to support you. Of course, we can’t make it all better, nor do we have all of the answers. But we wanted to put together a series of Teacher Clarity blogs and FB Lives to help with ideas for teaching in this current climate.

In culturally responsive teaching, we know a best practice is to use cooperative learning. We know many students, especially from the collectivist deep culture, thrive on interaction, and actually process and think better through dialogue with peers. We sure don’t want to take this away from them, even with all of the boundaries we are fighting right now!

Before we jump into strategies, let’s quickly recap the major points of cooperative learning:

  1. Students make deeper connections with the content through dialogue and games with each other
  2. Students fix misconceptions as they continue to practice or apply the content with practice.
  3. Students use independent learning strategies (notes, language rich environment, peer support) apart from the teacher to figure out content.

Here are 3 cooperative learning ideas that can be used both virutally and through social distancing:

  1. Note Card Heads Up: Students create their own deck of cards (based on your vocabulary or word wall) to use during the game using paper or notecards. Students hold a card up so that their partner or group can see the word but the student cannot. The group then gives clues so that the student can guess. If the student guesses correctly, they discard that card on table. If they pass, they move the card to the back of the deck and then try to guess the next card. At the end of a minute, the students count how many cards they have on the table to see which students won that round.

Virtually: Blindfold Heads Up! Student can play this game in a virtual small group. They will still create their own deck at home, and then hold up their cards. The additional piece is that the students blindfold themselves or keep their eyes closed. I would encourage you to play a few rounds as a whole group first to model.

Socially Distancing: Have students write big and on full sheets of paper. The clues can be acted out as well.

2. White Board Draw Me: Draw Me is a strategy originally introduced from EL Saber Enterprises. In this activity, students use the word wall or a vocabulary journal as a word bank. They are partnered up or put into teams. A students is assigned as the artist. When the teacher calls time, that student begins drawing and their team or partner tries to guess the word. When the team guesses, the artist gives a point and then moves on to another word and begins drawing. At the end of a minute, the teacher calls time and the team counts up their points to see who won the round.

Virtually: Move students into small groups of 2 or 3. Have students number themselves within the group. Number 1 starts as the artist. The artist sets the timer for a minute, chooses the word, and begins drawing as her team guesses. When the team guesses, the artist gives a point and then moves on to another word and begins drawing. At the end of a minute, the teacher calls time and the team counts up their points to see who won the round. I would encourage you to play a few rounds as a whole group first to model.

Social Distancing: Students can use the white board or full piece of paper to draw. I would recommend either using clip board or paperclipping the paper to a folder so students can hold up the paper as they are drawing. Each person will have their own white board or paper. The rules are the same. Students can sit across from each other. For a minute, Partner A draws, Partner B guesses. Then they switch.

3. T-A-C-O Strategy: The T-A-C-O strategy is a strategy we have introduced in a few of our online courses and trainings. As a reminder, here is what the T-A-C-O strategy stands for:

T – Think Time

A – Answer Independently

C- Consensus with partner or group

O – Output as a group

In general, you would post a question, give your students time to think about the answer, write down their answer independently on paper or white board, give them time to compare their answers and come to a consensus, and then share that consensus on a separate or designated white board, with the understanding that everyone in the group is responsible for explaining that answer.

Virtually: The T and the A would be the same. Students could then be broken into virtual small groups to come up with a concensus. This could also be done in writing through a google document or another virutal platform that fuels conversation (click here for an article to get some ideas). They then can share their consensus in a chat, or a designated group member can hold up a piece of paper (or even fingers for A-B-C-D answers) with the answer of the group. Teacher can call on a few students to explain their answer.

Socially distancing: Again, the T and the A would be the same. students could then (depending on their age) sit across from each other and discuss, use text, or chat via a software platform to explain, debate and support their individual answers. The designated team member could then add their answer to class answers virtually (through NearPod or Quizlet or another platform) or simply hold up a white board.

Please don’t abandon cooeprative learning! Students need the engagement with each other, but socially and academically! I know it’s hard and looks different, but you’ve got this! Please let us know how any of these strategies, or strategies that you are already doing are working!

We’ve got more ideas coming! Don’t forget to follow us on social media!

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