Cooperative Learning Group Work Roles Made Easier

Hey teaching friends!   I don’t know about you, but when I first started to learn about cooperative learning and group projects, I was pumped at the possibilities and learning that could happen!  So I went to school the next day so excited, put my class of third graders in groups, and gave them a project.

I was enthralled with what I thought I would see happening right before my very own eyes!

Yea…then reality happened.

I saw groups of students pretty much fartin’ around, arguing with one another, sitting quietly by themselves like outcasts, yelling across the room to their friends, and pretty much everything I had NOT envisioned – hahaha!  I suddenly realized maybe cooperative learning and group projects was not the best plan.

When I first started to learn about group work learning, I was pumped at the possibilities! Check out this blog post for how I got it up and running.

Of course, as any good teacher will tell you, you need to reflect first on how YOU could have changed the lesson.   I realized that my students not only had no idea what to do, but they were all different personalities and that also didn’t always mesh.

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What is cooperative learning group work in the classroom?

Cooperative learning strategies are often overlooked by instructors in the classroom because it isn’t a quick “do this” type of activity.  It takes time to explain, model, and practice.  And time is something educators have less and less of each day of the school year.

But if you take the time to invest in these cooperative learning activities the high-yield returns are more than worth the small amount of upfront time lost.  It can truly be a difference of mass chaos in the classroom during group work to small groups of students working in a classroom together in harmony with common end group goals.

Cooperative learning roles and responsibilities might feel like the biggest opportunity ever for classroom management to get out of hand, but the opposite actually happens when implementation of the system is in use by the students.

Having meaning in team based learning develops problem solving, social skills, and critical thinking.  Students learn so much more beyond the learning task.

Benefits of cooperative learning go well beyond the primary or intermediate classroom too.  Employers today are asking for students who are good at group interactions, in addition to face to face encounters with colleagues and customers.

By having group experiences all throughout the school years, children will have an upper hand when entering the workforce later in life.

How to implement group work in the classroom:

Group roles for student projects seem daunting, but once the roles are mapped out and implemented, your job goes from one of educator instead to overseer of the learning process.

It is important to remember cooperative learning strategy involves more than just assigning a group and handing group members a role.  Student achievement of proper implementation of project-based learning groups will require proper modeling and practicing.

It isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of learning.

In all honesty, it will probably be a nightmare when you are first starting.

Cooperative learning group roles are essential for students to learn HOW and WHAT to do when in a group project situation.  Collaborative learning doesn’t just come naturally for most – myself included.  It needs to be taught and practiced over and over again until it becomes like second nature.

So, the next time I did this experiment, I made sure to assign each child a specific role, or job, for the project.   That seemed to work a little better, but I still had students who were being overly bossy or others who wouldn’t speak up to help at all.

I needed one more thing to make it work better.  A script.

I am super excited to show off my Group Work Role Bands!   You can make your own as well – it doesn’t take any fancy materials.   Just grab some paper or cardstock, write the job description, and viola!   Easy peasy!

When I first started to learn about group work learning, I was pumped at the possibilities! Check out this blog post for how I got it up and running.

If you want the ease of having some already created, I have you covered as well!

My pre-made set of Group Work Student Role Bands includes 25 different student role bands that can be used as wrist bands or even on a lanyard!

They include a description of the role “I need to…” and an example of words to say, so the student makes a better choice when fulfilling that role.  They are plain blackline masters, so you can print easily right on the colored paper or cardstock of your choice.

After printing, you can either connect the bands by using a stapler, a paper clip, velcro, or magnets.   {A word to the wise:   if you choose to laminate, you will need SUPER strong pieces of magnets or velcro if you choose that route.}

You could print out enough just for the groups you want to create – and in colors for the amount of groups you have.

When I first started to learn about group work learning, I was pumped at the possibilities! Check out this blog post for how I got it up and running.

Or you could print on very specific colors:   red, yellow, blue, and green maybe and you would know which color (and role) to hand to different students based on their behaviors and abilities.  It’s completely up to you!

When I first started to learn about group work learning, I was pumped at the possibilities! Check out this blog post for how I got it up and running.

This set includes the following different student roles in group work:

  • Encourager
  • Materials Manager
  • Researcher
  • Question Wrangler
  • Time Tracker
  • Group Leader
  • Imagination Engineer
  • Feel Good Giver
  • Trouble Talker
  • Task Master
  • Recorder
  • Data Collector
  • Reality Checker
  • Coach
  • Extender
  • Quiet Captain
  • Laser Focuser
  • Group Spy
  • Turn Tracker
  • Wrap Up Talker
  • Rah Rah Coach
  • Errand Monitor
  • Accuracy Accountant
  • The Star of the Show
  • Wildcard

There are tons of bands to choose from, so you can personalize your groups as needed depending on the project and the class!

I have found that students will naturally gravitate towards the same roles time and time again because it fits in with a personality better.

If this becomes the case in your classroom, that is fine!

Think about your own personal preferences:  maybe you enjoy being the data collector or time keeper.  You dread the thought of being the researcher or motivator for others.  We all have very specific strengths.

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Once students have had a chance to really work with all roles, have them tell you which 3-5 they prefer most and then create groups based on those choices.  Your small group work will flow seamlessly when each child has a role he or she feels comfortable in and the learning will exponentially increase if each child is working in his or her own “zone of genius.”

It really is magical to see students using cooperative learning to its highest potential.   I can’t wait for you to see it in your classroom as well!

Grab your set of Group Work Student Role Bands HERE.

What tips have you found to increase group work/cooperative learning in your classroom?   We would love to hear them in the comments below too!

Happy learning!


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One Comment

  1. Geri Miles says:

    As someone who has used and been trained in cooperative learning, I have seen many classroom failures because teachers don’t understand the core principles, which I hope you are implementing to achieve student success. First, teacher, not student, select groups. Groups should be academically heterogeneous. No more than 4 kids to a group. Once roles are explained and assigned (by you, at least at first), students move into groups and work AS a group. Students should take turns on projects performing different roles. No “But I don’t want to be the timer.” Only one hand can be raised for teacher help, and that’s only when the entire group cannot solve the problem. Lastly, and crucially, only individual, NEVER group grades are given.
    This is just a quick overview of the process – there is much more involved. I hope these points have helped, and if youre not already using them, you might want to give them a try. Good luck!