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Explain Task and Cooperative Structure

At this point the teacher has planned the lesson by making preinstructional decisions. The teacher shapes and cooperative structure by explaining the academic task, specifying the criteria for success, explaining positive interdependence, structure individual accountability, structuring intergroup cooperation, and specifying expected behaviors. These terms are defined below.

Explaining the academic task. The teacher needs to tell the class"(a) what to do to complete the assignment and (b) how to do it" (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, p. 2:19). A few steps should be followed in explaining the academic task. First, the teacher must explain the assignment, which needs to be a clear, measurable task. Then, to ensure transfer and retention the teacher has to explain lesson objectives. Objectives may be stated as outcomes: “At the end of this lesson, each of you will be able to locate your native town. You will be able to identify and state the longitude and latitude of your town.” 

Next the teacher explains the concepts, principles, and strategies students will use during the lesson and relates them to students’ past experience and prior knowledge. The teacher also explains the procedures students are to follow in completing the assignment. A visible product is required from each student. This keeps students on task and helps ensure a responsible behavior. The teacher asks class members specific questions to check their understanding of the assignment. The last step is to ask students to answer in pairs or triads the questions the lesson will focus on. This is done to establish expectations about what the lesson will cover and to organize in advance what students know about the topic (Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec, 1998).

Specifying the criteria for success. Cooperative learning requires criterion-based evaluation, which means adopting a fixed set of standards and judging the achievement of each student against these standards. "A common version of criterion-referenced grading involves assigning letter grades on the basis of the percentage of test items answered correctly" (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1998, p.2:19). Or the teacher might say: “Before the group is not finished, every member must demonstrate mastery.” To promote intergroup cooperation, the teacher can say: “if the whole class can score over 80% correct on our mathematics test, each student will receive three bonus points.”

Explaining positive interdependence. “Positive goal interdependence exists when a mutually joint goal is established so that individuals perceive they can attain their goals if and only if their groupmates attain their goals. Without positive interdependence cooperation does not exist" (Johnson and Johnson, 1999, p. 29). First, the teacher structures positive goal interdependence. To ensure that students think “we, not me,” the teacher says to students: “You have three responsibilities. You are responsible for learning the assigned material. You are responsible for making sure that all other members of your group learn the assigned material. And you are responsible for making sure that all other class members successfully learn the assigned material” (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1998, p. 2:19).

Second, the teacher supplements positive goal interdependence with other types of positive interdependence, such as reward, role, resource, or identity. For example, positive reward interdependence may be structured by providing group rewards. If all members of the group score above a specified level, each of them will receive bonus points. Positive interdependence creates peer encouragement and support for learning: “Do your work we are counting on you!” and “How can I help you to do better?” (Johnson & Johnson, 1999, p.29).  

Structuring individual accountability.  “An underlying purpose of cooperative learning is to make each group member a stronger individual in his or her own right. This is accomplished by holding all members accountable to learn the assigned materials and help other group members learn" (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1998, p.2:18). Teachers can structure individual accountability in the classroom by assessing the performance of each individual member and by giving the results back to the individual and the group to compare to established criteria. The feedback makes students recognize and celebrate efforts to learn and contributions to groupmates’ learning; provides immediate remediation and any needed assistance or encouragement; and reassigns responsibilities to avoid redundant efforts by students.” (Johnson and Johnson, 1999, p. 29). 

“Individual accountability results in group members knowing they cannot hitchhike on the work of others, loaf, or get a free ride. Ways of structuring individual accountability include keeping group size small, giving an individual test to each student, giving random individual oral examinations, observing and recording the frequency with which each student contributes to the group’s work, having students teach what they know to someone else, and having students use what they have learned on different problems.” (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1998, p. 2:18).     

Structuring intergroup cooperation. The teacher establishes class goals as well as group and individual goals. The teacher encourages the members of a group who are finished with their work to find other groups who are not finished and help them understand how to complete the assignment successfully or to compare answers and strategies with groups that are finished (Johnson & Johnson, 1999).  

Specifying expected behaviors. In cooperative learning the teacher has to specify desired behaviors such as small group and interpersonal skills.  Because students are simultaneously engaged in taskwork and teamwork, they must learn both. When specifying the expected behaviors, the teacher has to be specific by defining each social skill, start small by emphasizing no more than one or two behaviors at a time not more, and emphasize overlearning by having the students practice the skills until they become automatic (Johnson & Johnson, 1999).


           Johnson, D., Johnson, R.  (1999). Learning together and alone: cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning.Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

           Johnson, D., Johnson, R.& Holubec, E. (1998).Cooperation in the classroom. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.