Informal cooperative learning groups

In informal cooperative learning, small, temporary, ad-hoc groups of two to four students work together for brief periods in a class, typically up to one class period, to answer questions or respond to prompts posted by the instructor.


The instructor asks a discussion question.  Students are instructed to think or write about an answer to the question before turning to a peer to discuss their responses.  Groups then share their responses with the class.

Peer Instruction

A modification of the think-pair-share for larger classes involves personal response devices (e.g., clickers).  The question posted is typically a conceptually based multiple-choice question.  Students think about their answer and vote on a response before turning to a neighbor to discuss.  Students can change their answers after discussion, and “sharing” is accomplished by the instructor revealing the graph of student responses and using this as a stimulus for larger class discussion. 


In this approach, groups of students work in a team of four to become experts on one segment of new material, while other “expert teams” in the class work on other segments of new material.  The class then rearranges forming new groups that have one member from each expert team.  The members of the new team then take turns teaching each other the material on which they are experts.

Formal cooperative learning groups

In formal cooperative learning students work together for one or more class periods to complete a joint task or assignment.  There are several features that can help these groups work well:

  • The instructor defines the learning objectives for the activity and assigns students to teams
  • The teams are typically heterogeneous, with particular attention to the skills that are needed for success in the task
  • Within teams, students may be assigned specific roles, with the instructor communicating the criteria for success and the types of social skills that will be needed
  • The instructor continues to play an active role during the team’s work, monitoring the work and evaluating group and individual performance
  • Instructors encourage teams to reflect on their interactions to identify potential improvements for future team work.

Resources provided at this site are generally intended for use with formal cooperative learning groups.


Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved [05/01/19] from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/setting-up-and-facilitating-group-work-using-cooperative-learning-groups-effectively/.