Cooperative Learning in Elementary School

Seminar Paper, 2010

20 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of Cooperative Learning according to Weidner

3. Five Elements of Cooperative Learning
3.1. Interpersonal and Small Group Skills - Social Skills
3.2. Face-to-Face Interaction
3.3. Individual and Group Accountability
3.4. Positive Interdependence
3.5. Group Processing

4. The Relevance of Cooperative Learning in General
4.1 Relevance of Cooperative Learning in the EFL Classroom
4.1.1 The Principle of Emotional Safety
4.1.2 The Supportive Context
4.1.3 The Simultaneity Principle
4.1.4 The Communicative Approach
4.2 Relevance of Cooperative Learning in Primary School
4.2.1 Cognitive Development during Primary School
4.2.2 Cognitive Development according to Piaget
4.3 The Requirements of the „Rahmenplan Grundschule”

5. Cooperative Learning Forms in the EFL Primary Classroom
5.1 The Inside-Outside Circle
5.1.1 Advantages of the Inner-Outer Circle
5.1.2 Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning in the Inner-Outer Circle
5.2 The Same-Different Game
5.2.1 Advantages of the Same-Different Game
5.2.2 Basic Elements of Cooperative learning in the Same-Different Game

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

For numerous reasons, many students lack basic social skills. Social skills are required in working life and by society in general. Cooperative learning forms are helpful for pupils in terms of developing these skills. During primary school children are going through very im- portant developmental processes. Cooperative learning methods should be used from the be- ginning on.

This paper intends to make clear that implementing cooperative learning forms in EFL primary classes (as well as in higher grades and other topics) is possible, necessary and bene- ficial.

A definition of cooperative learning is given and the basic elements of cooperative learning are described. An emphasis is put on the central element of positive interdependence. Then the relevance of cooperative learning forms for primary school is shown by reviewing principles of foreign language learning in school. The relevance of cooperative learning for EFL primary classes is additionally clarified by reviewing Piaget's developmental theory. Finally, two cooperative learning methods that can be used in an EFL primary classroom are presented and examined.

The abbreviation "EFL" stands for English as a Foreign Language.

The term „cooperative learning” is described in the following paragraph.

2. Definition of Cooperative Learning according to Weidner

Weidner (2003, p.29) states that cooperative learning is a special form of small group teaching which accentuates and structures social processes in learning and makes them a subject of discussion. According to Weidner, the development of a loose group into a "real" team with a visible identity is highly important. The self-responsibility for team learning pro- cesses is activated and enhanced through various measurements and activities (Weidner). Positive interdependence between group members is created through carefully planned proc- esses (Weidner). Furthermore, Weidner points out that this has a positive influence on social interactions as well as on work results or the products of work. Weidner highlights that in cooperative learning the group processes are at least as important as the work results.

3. Five Elements of Cooperative Learning

There are five basic elements that characterise cooperative learning (Weidner, 2006, p. 34). Ideally, all of these elements are found in cooperative learning forms (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). If these elements can be found in a learning form, it can be expected to give better results than competitive and individualistic methods. The five basic elements are described in the following chapter.

3.1. Interpersonal and Small Group Skills - Social Skills

Cooperative learning is in it self more complex than individualistic or competitive learning because group members have to work on academic subject matter and need to function effectively as a team. Social skills need to be taught precisely and purposefully to students (Johnson & Johnson, n. D., para. 10). This is necessary for group processes to work successfully. Social skills improve communication, trust, the ability to negotiate and to make decisions and to find adequate conflict solving strategies (Weidner, 2006, p. 35). These skills empower students to be successful in team- and task work . It is vital for cooperative groups to manage conflicts constructively because conflict is inherent to cooperation. Therefore students need to be taught social skills (Johnson & Johnson, n. D., para. 10).

3.2. Face-to-Face Interaction

As a lot of content of cooperative learning can only be covered discursively, an adequate framework is needed to be successful. Group members need to sit close enough, so that they can easily see and hear each other. In this way communication processes are optimized (Weidner, 2006, p. 35). Johnson & Johnson (n. D., para. 8) underline that „Students need to do real work together in which they promote each other's success by sharing resources and helping, supporting, encouraging, and applauding each other's efforts to achieve. There are important cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics that can only occur when students promote each other's learning.”

The effect of these activities is that cooperative learning groups provide academic support as well as personal support. Members become personally committed to their mutual goals as well as to each other when learning is promoted face-to-face (Johnson & Johnson, n. D., para. 8).

3.3. Individual and Group Accountability

Johnson & Johnson (n. D., para. 9) state that two levels of accountability are needed in cooperative lessons, individual and group accountability. Each group needs to be accountable for reaching its goals and every group member should feel responsible for his learning processes and the ones of the group. The group members should be accountable for contributing their part of the job.

Johnson & Johnson explain that individual accountability exists when the work of each group member is evaluated and the results are returned to both the individual and the group in order to find out which group member needs more support and assistance with learning.

3.4. Positive Interdependence

According to Johnson & Johnson (n. D.) positive interdependence is „the [...] most important element in structuring cooperative learning” (para. 7). They call positive interdependence the „heart of cooperative learning” (para. 7). Johnson & Johnson claim that without it, there would be no cooperation. They state that positive interdependence is created when the members of a group realize that they are all linked together, so that no one can succeed unless everyone succeeds. Johnson & Johnson demand that the goals and tasks of groups need to be designed and explained to students in certain ways which show them that they can only succeed as a group. Two things should be made clear to students: Firstly, that the effort of each member is needed and vital for group success and secondly, that the abilities and/ or the task and role responsibilities of each group member make his or her potential contribution unique. This will increase the dedication to one‘s own success as well as that of group members.

Bochmann & Kirchmann (2006) state that several factors can strengthen team spirit and effectiveness of team learning:

Positive Goal Interdependence: students are aware that all team members must achieve the given goal (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). Only then satisfying results can be achieved (Bochmann & Kirchmann). All team members should feel responsible to contribute to the work of the team (Bochmann & Kirchmann). The success of the team depends on all members achieving the given goals (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Example: a team is given the task to memorize the days of the week. The team is then successful when all members have mastered the task and everyone is able to memorize the days of the week.

Reward Interdependence: every team member gets the same reward for successful work (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). The team is rewarded for the common result - it is either all members or no one (Bochmann & Kirchmann). The reward only depends on the quality of the team's results (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Example: the teacher can use bonus points, give no homework, free reading time or certain playthings for the break as rewards (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006).

Positive Outside Enemy Interdependence: several teams are in competition with each other. Team members then feel interdependent and try hard to win (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998). If the competition between teams tends to get socially destructive, teachers can give the students real or fictional reference values (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006).

Example: “3rd grade students usually complete this task in 20 minutes, make no more than four mistakes and reach about 16 points in total” (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006).

Positive Task Interdependence: the task of the team is organized in steps (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). Every team member works on one step and thereby creates the basis for the other team members to build on (Bochmann & Kirchmann). In order to be successful, teams have to stick to a certain sequence (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

It is also possible that the procedure is done with whole teams, maybe while working on a larger project. However, not all tasks can be organized this way. If it is possible, it should be implemented (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006).

Environmental Interdependence: every team has a clearly structured work space where all it's working material is available (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). The working environment is set up in a way that the team members are not physically restricted (Bochmann & Kirchmann). Students should be able to communicate with each other without being disturbed, they should all be able to see and access the working materials (Bochmann & Kirchmann). This will strengthen the cooperation and the team results as well (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Positive Role Interdependence: for the duration of the team work each member is assigned different roles (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). There are roles that are closer connected to the working process and roles which are supposed to strengthen cooperation, social behaviour and motivation of the team (Bochmann & Kirchmann). Besides a role that is supposed to strengthen the academic aspect of the team work each member is given a role to optimize the social aspect of team work (Bochmann & Kirchmann).


academic aspect: reader - writer - time manager - manager of material - inspector social aspect: praise giver - peer mediator - calmness reminder - good mood manager (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Positive Identity Interdependence: it might help the working and learning process if a team finds a common identity (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). This can be a name, a slogan, a motto, a sign, a flag, or a song (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Positive Resource Interdependence: each team member has only a part of the necessary learning material with which he or she has to work (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). The contribution of every member is crucial because only the integration of the parts generates the team result (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

Positive Fantasy Interdependence: in order to strengthen the commitment to the team, the teacher can give students an imaginary task (Bochmann & Kirchmann, 2006). This could be a life-threatening situation or dealing with future technology (Bochmann & Kirchmann). The natural joy of playing is used to generate complex results (Bochmann & Kirchmann).

3.5. Group Processing

Groups need to discuss how well they are doing at keeping up effective working relationships and reaching their goals. The group members should describe here what actions are beneficial or unhelpful. They need to decide which behaviours they want to continue and which they want to change. When the group members are analysing the ways they work together and how they can increase the effectiveness of the group, continuous improvement of learning processes will be the result (Johnson & Johnson, n. D., para. 11).

The description of the five basic elements of cooperative learning shows that cooperative learning is different from usual group work. The processes that are initiated by implementing the different elements can make students realize that the success of the group depends on everyone's active contribution. Also, students might understand that the performance of every team member is influenced by the group. If these realization take place, valuable insights in social processes are acquired and social skills are developed.

4. The Relevance of Cooperative Learning in General

Weidner‘s (2003, pp. 18-24) observations are helpful to find out about the relevance and importance of cooperative learning. She analyses the changes in traditional structures of families, the changes of traditional values, the omnipresence of media, the changes in the working environment and the situation in schools.

Weidner points out the huge gap that opens up between the many destabilizing factors that children and teenagers are confronted with and the expectations and requirements that school and working environment have. She sees a series of implications for schools. Weidner sees a much bigger need for schools to teach social skills and also a more urgent task for compensation.

Her description of today's problems, changes and expectations shows clearly that implementing cooperative learning methods is necessary. This point is described in more detail in another paper and therefore not being discussed in detail.

4.1 Relevance of Cooperative Learning in the EFL Classroom

4.1.1 The Principle of Emotional Safety

Especially when thinking of the Principle of Emotional Safety (Butzkamm, 1998) the be- nefits of cooperative learning techniques become obvious. Kagan (1993) explains that speak- ing in a foreign language is often connected with fear. According to him, Students who are limited in language proficiency are often not sure of the content and fear making mistakes. At the same time, they are unsure about the language and avoid embarrassment by not speaking in class. Butzkamm states that learning languages needs a positive climate of trust and emotional safety. He explains that the willingness to learn is connected closely to strong personal ties. Butzkamm says that the teacher acts as a model of a foreign language communication partner.

During the first weeks and even months of EFL instruction, it is quite likely that situations arise in which students feel totally helpless and stupid and afraid of making a fool of themselves (Butzkamm, 1998). Therefore, providing a good classroom atmosphere is particularly important in a primary classroom. This principle is closely connected to what Kagan calls "the Supportive Context".


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Cooperative Learning in Elementary School
University of Kassel
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ISBN (Book)
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englisch, grundschule, elementary school, pädagogik, efl
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Matthias Giepen (Author), 2010, Cooperative Learning in Elementary School , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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