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What Makes Cooperative Learning Work?

The essential components of cooperation are positive interdependence, individual and group accountability, face-to-face promotive interaction,  interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998). Systematically structuring these basic elements into group learning situations helps ensure cooperative efforts and enables the disciplined implementation of cooperative learning for long-term success.                

  1. Positive Interdependence. The teacher gives a clear task and a group goal so that students believe they “sink or swim together.” Positive interdependence is successfully structured when group members perceive that they are linked with each other in a way that one cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds. the failure of one ensures the failure of all. Group members know  that each member’s efforts benefit not only him/herself, but all group members.  

  2. Individual and group accountability. The group must be accountable for achieving its goals, and each member must be accountable for contributing his or her share of the work.
    The group has to be clear about its goals and be able to measure (a) its progress in achieving them and (b) the individual efforts of  each of its members. Individual accountability exists when the performance of each individual student is assessed and the results are given back to the group and the individual in order to ascertain who needs more assistance, support, and encouragement in completing the assignment (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998, p. 1:14). 

  3. Promotive interaction, preferably face-to-face.  
    Students need to do real work together in which they promote each other’s success by sharing resources and helping, supporting, encouraging, and praising each other’s efforts to learn. Cooperative learning groups are both an academic support system... and a personal support system.... There are important cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics that can only occur when students promote each other’s learning. This includes orally explaining how to solve problems, discussing the nature of the concepts being learned, teaching one’s knowledge to classmates, and connecting present with past learning. It is through promoting each other’s learning face-to-face that members become personally committed to each other as well as to their mutual goals (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998, p. 1:14). 

    1. Teaching students the required interpersonal and small group skills. When working in a team, students need to possess interpersonal skills and group skills in addition to knowledge of the subject matter. “Group members must know how to provide effective leadership, decision-making, trust building, communication and conflict-management, and be motivated to use the prerequisite skills” (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998 p. 1:14).
    2. Group processing: The final element necessary to make cooperation work is structuring group processing. This element is present when students discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining relationships (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1999). The teacher can have the students judge what they did to get the subject-matter task done and have them consider their use of social skills. Without group processing, cooperative groups are often only groups of students sitting together working on the same task.


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