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Крекешева Жанар Калиуллаевна, специалист академического отдела

АО НЦПК «Өрлеу» Институт повышения квалификации педагогических работников

The article deals with cooperative learning techniques. The author targeted on the application of four steps that teachers have to follow in teaching cooperative skills Furthermore, levels of cooperative skills as well as factors resulted in group work were considered.

В статье рассматриваются кооперативные (совместные) методы обучения. Цель автора состоит в рассмотрении применения техники «четырех шагов», которым учитель должен следовать в обучении студентов навыкам кооперативного (совместного) обучения. Кроме того, уровни кооперативных (совместных) навыков, а также факторы, приводящие к групповой работе, были также рассмотрены в данной статье.

Since ancient times, linguists and language specialists sought to improve the quality of language teaching, elaborating principles and theories that came into force from the nineteenth century on. Linguists such as Palmer, Skinner, Chomsky, and Krashen among others, have contributed to this development of present-day approaches which developed in current methods. Following Richards & Rodgers (1992), theories about the nature of language and of language learning are the source of principles in language teaching. Within a theory of language, at least three different theoretical views provide current approaches and methods in language teaching.

The first, the structural view, is the most traditional of the three. Within its theory, language is a system of structurally related elements for the coding of meaning, and is defined in terms of phonological and grammatical units, grammatical operations and lexical items. Some methods have embodied this particular view of language over the years. Thus Audiolingualism, and contemporary methods as Total Physical Response and the Silent Way, share this view of language.

From the second, the functional view, language is seen as a vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. A main tenet within this view is the notion of communication within a theory that emphasizes the semantic and communicative dimension rather than merely the grammatical characteristics of language. Linguists such as R. Ellis or Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell’s contribution show an approach focusing on teaching communicative abilities and emphasizing the primacy of meaning when second language acquisition is on study[1].

Although modern foreign language teaching has adopted completely new methods, the work of language contributed significantly to scientific views in the field of language teaching and learning. Even when methods are not frequently used or have fallen into obscurity, they may offer useful insights into the general teaching methodology. Surely, modern teaching is also based on the elements derived from these methods.

Yet, not all linguists actually agree on the use of the terms «method» and «approach». It seems that some linguists tend to cancel the term method; some hold that a certain method is actually an approach or that a certain approach is in fact a method.

Let’s consider in more detail communicative language teaching included cooperative learning as one of approaches which become increasingly popular as a feature of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).

Effective teaching is based upon two complementary concepts: 1. Communicative learning; 2. Cooperative learning.

Communicative learning can be conceived of as a sub-set of cooperative learning. Cooperative learning is a teaching approach applied in a vast array of subjects. Communicative learning is particularly appropriate to language learning. A further concept, developing student «communicative competence», is introduced as the principal goal of communicative learning.

«Cooperative learning» is a situation where students learn together, based on group work; contrasting this educational method is «competitive learning,» where students compete against each other in a learning situation. Communicating in English is based on cooperation between students to negotiate meaning and understanding with each other. This is contrasted with the traditional reading and translation-based classes, which by comparing the students to arrive at grades are competitive and penalize cooperative learning. Combination of cooperative and competitive goal structures is feasible, by having cooperative learning groups compete against each other.

«Communicative language learning» emphasizes interactive language learning, as opposed to the traditional «grammar-translation method» of the mere memorizing of rules of grammar, semantics, phonology or lexical items.

By contrast, a communicative language learning approach emphasizes: the student having a central role; the primary goal is the ability to communicate; meaning is paramount, and language learning is contextualized; and an active learning approach and active learning strategy. The principal goal of communicative language learning is to develop «communicative competence»[2].

When students use English to cooperate and interact with each other, classes are more effective. According to Brown (1994), interactive classes have the following beneficial features: (1) There is a large amount of pair and group work; (2) Students engage in spontaneous and authentic conversations; (3) Students write for actual audiences and purposes, not artificial ones; (4) Tasks prepare students for the real world outside of the classroom.

Steps in teaching cooperative skills

There are four steps that teachers must follow in teaching cooperative skills [3].

Step l. Students must see value in group work. Since most students come to EFL (English Foreign Language) classes expecting the traditional classroom

arrangement, with the teacher in front of the class and the students in straight rows watching the teacher, they will be confused and hesitant when these expectations are not met. If teachers want students to react positively to their first experiences in cooperative learning, students must understand at least some of the many rationales for this kind of classroom experience. They need to understand why it is that they are doing things differently and how it will help them reach their goals.

1. There are several ways a teacher might help students see value in cooperative skills. Some teachers simply explain why they are doing cooperative work. Other teachers do a brainstorm session on the possible value of cooperative group work. Still others place posters around the room to remind learners of the benefits of cooperative group work. There are some ideas on the value of cooperative learning for your own students: (1) We get more opportunities to talk; (2) We hear more English; (3) We learn more about each other and that’s interesting; (4) We learn to respect different ideas and opinions; (5) We have to really think in order to solve the problems; (6) We see other points of view; (7) We learn social skills for getting along with others; (8) We learn more vocabulary words and etc.

Step 2. Students must be aware of the necessary skills for successful group work in order to know what they are supposed to do! In order to function in a group situation, for example, students need to know how to get information from the other members and respond to questions. For example, they could participate in a brainstorming session where in students generate phrases and question forms that can be used to gather information and answer questions, such as with the information-gap activity previously described. It would be helpful for them to be able to talk about columns and rows and to make appropriate questions. The teacher should demonstrate and model the skill to further clarify the points to the students. Concentrate on one skill at a time.

Step 3. Students must practice the skill. The major responsibilities teachers have in cooperative learning are to design and set up practice situations. In the example given above, the skill being focused on was gathering information — asking questions and responding to questions. The familiar twenty-questions activity structured as a one-centered activity is a good example of this step. One student in the group is «on focus.» This student selects a card from a pile of cards. Without looking at the card, the student shows it to the other members of the group. The student who drew the card must now ask questions of the group in order to determine what is on the card. Students take turns being on focus until each person in the group has had a chance. Students need to have a chance to practice the skills long enough so they can integrate the skills into their daily interactions with their peers. Once is never enough!

Step 4. Students need to process the skills they have practiced. Processing means that students need to become aware of what exactly it is they have practiced and to evaluate how successful they have been in the practice of the

skills. Teachers can assist students by preparing questions for them to answer and worksheets to help students evaluate their own performance or the performance of other group members. Teachers can also model the processing skills. What kinds of questions did you use? What information was most helpful? What phrases did you hear most often?

Levels of cooperative skills

In cooperative learning, setting up practice sessions is the chief responsibility of the teacher. What cooperative skills teachers choose for practice will depend on what skills students have not mastered. According to Johnson and Johnson (1975), there are four levels of cooperative skills that teachers can focus on. These skills can be categorized in the following ways.

1. Forming. Forming skills are directed towards organizing the group and establishing behavioral norms. Groups who have mastered the skill of forming can move into their groups quickly and quietly, use quiet voices, stay with their groups for the duration of the activity, encourage participation within the group, use group members’ names, and avoid giving any put-downs. Teachers who claim that cooperative group work is too noisy or takes too much time are working with students who have not been allowed to master the skill of forming.

2. Functioning. Functioning skills are directed towards completing tasks and maintaining good relationships within the group. Groups must understand, for example, what the time limits are and how the activity should be carried out within their groups, step by step. Activities that focus on the skill of functioning give learners a chance to ask for help, paraphrase previous comments, clarify, explain, and express support.

3. Formulating. The skill of formulating is directed towards helping learners develop a deeper understanding of the material being studied and to develop better reasoning strategies, as well as to aid in maximum retention of the material. Activities that focus on the skill of formulating help learners develop strategies for remembering material such as summarizing out loud, adding important information to the summary, pointing out information that may not have been summarized properly, relating material from a previous activity to the one being focused on, demanding vocalization in the reasoning process, and seeking clever, useful ways of remembering important information.

4. Fermenting. The highest-level skill for cooperative groups is fer-menting. This skill involves helping learners explore more thoroughly the material they have been exposed to. When students can begin to challenge each other’s ideas, to explore different ways of looking at the material and re -conceptualize these ideas, they are using the skills of fermenting.

Several factors work together to result in group work where everyone involved is interested, active, and thoughtful. If these factors agree with each other, then group work is likely to be successful. If they are not in agreement, group work is likely to be unsuccessful. The five factors are (1) the learning goals of group work, (2) the task, (3) the way information is distributed, (4) the

seating arrangement of the members of the group, and (5) the social relationships between the members of the group.

Group and pair work

Group and pair work are indispensible to task-based teaching. This type of classroom arrangement creates a completely different atmosphere from that of a traditional teacher-centered class; instead of strictly controlling the students, the teacher coordinates their work. According to Brown (1994), group work creates a favorable climate for communication by relieving students of the anxiety of having to talk in front of the whole class. Brown reports miraculous changes in students who had been too shy to talk until they worked in groups. In addition, group work makes students more responsible and autonomous—they have equal responsibility for performing a task and find it «difficult» to «hide» in a small group [5].

Several factors work together to result in group work where everyone involved is interested, active, and thoughtful. I first encountered the amazing possibilities of interactive techniques for preparing students for real-world language use when I discovered the following six tasks categorized by Willis (1996) that form a chain in advanced order of complexity [6]:

1. Listing. Students work individually or in groups to gather facts about a topic by brainstorming, researching, and interviewing. This provides plentiful data and activates their background knowledge and experience of the topic.

2. Ordering and sorting. Students sequence or rank the facts, vocabulary, or ideas about a topic in a meaningful order.

3. Comparing and contrasting. Students point out the similarities and differences in the information they have gathered.

4. Problem-solving. Students create and evaluate a hypothesis related to a problem and analyze possible solutions.

5. Sharing personal experiences. Students engage in conversations and discussions about topics that have personal relevance.

6. Creative tasks and projects. Students collaborate to produce a written, oral, or multimedia project that summarizes the important things they have learned from task-based work.

These techniques are especially valuable for organizing group or pair work, and they can be based on almost any text, adapted to almost any topic, and used in any class. While performing these tasks, students engage in spontaneous discussions, solve problems, and prepare presentations. These activities help students communicate freely and overcome the psychological barrier to communication that so often occurs in a classroom setting.


1. Palmer, Parker (1992). Teaching Practice: Teaching Methods London: Longman.

2. Gilfert S. and Carlson, A. (1992). Interesting, informative, intriguing: Using ‘real English.’ Bulletin of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Hokuriku University 1, pp. 9-15.

3. Johnson, D. W. and R. T. Johnson. 1975. Learning together and alone. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

4. Brown, D.H. (1994). Principles of language learning and teaching (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

5. Willis, D. & Willis, J. (1996).Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann.

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