Education is known and sometimes mocked for its excessive use of jargon and buzzwords. The criticism is fair. However, for all jargon that muddies the waters, there is one skill that rises above the rest and serves as the linchpin for everything else. Cooperative learning is the fundamental framework of learning. It is the most dynamic skill with the most impact on future success. Therefore, while planning lessons for the first days of school, consider some of these cooperative learning activities that help set the priority and that begin to integrate the skill.
Cooperative learning requires students to regularly communicate and collaborate with one another, and setting norms for those interactions is something that students must develop and decide on. By setting expectations early, students have the opportunity to begin the process of cooperative learning from the very first day. In the spirit of the first days of school, this is an opportunity for students to get to know one another and to begin getting comfortable stating opinions, establishing rules, and following procedures.
Think – Pair – Share
Syllabus day is a dreadful day of school. As teachers monotonously orate an overview of their classes, student interest plummets, and the year is not off to a great start. A think-pair-share activity is a great opportunity to integrate cooperative learning into the first day of school and give students an opportunity to brainstorm expected areas of study, particular projects that they may have heard about, and other classroom components. Next, give them an opportunity to pair up with other students to discuss their assumptions and hear other viewpoints. Finally, students can briefly share with for the class. In the end, students will attain a general understanding of the class without having to endure a “syllabus day.”
The Marshmallow Challenge
Popularized by Tom Wujec, the Marshmallow Challenge is an engaging, team-building activity that’s perfect for awkward first days in a cooperative learning environment. Through this activity, students learn to present their own ideas, assist one another in the process, and share in the final production value. This requires very little material and even less preparation, and it sets a standard of cooperation from the very beginning.
Rather than having students introduce themselves to the class, allow them to interview the person sitting next to them. The students can spend a few minutes in conversation, getting to know one another and building rapport. At the conclusion of the activity, students can introduce their partner to the class. In this way, opening day introductions are achieved through a cooperative framework.
This is a popular cooperative learning strategy for exploring different angles of a particular issue, but it can also be employed on the first day of school to achieve a classroom overview and understanding. Rather than listening to a lecture, students can tour the room and learn about different facets of the class including expectations, grading policies, units of study, and assessment standards. These are essential first-day components, and providing them in a cooperative manner helps ensure that students get the most out of these first moments of class.
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