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21st Century Skills » 4Cs: Collaboration

4Cs: Collaboration

What is collaboration?

It is a complex set of skills, abilities, and behaviors that can be taught and modeled, including, to mention a few:

  • Communication skills: listening, attending to verbal and non-verbal cues and information, giving and receiving positive, useful critiques;
  • Cooperation skills: leading and following and switching from leading to following, taking responsibility for group tasks, attending to group process;
  • Emotional skills: being aware of one’s own and others’ feelings, expressing feelings appropriately, and showing compassion and empathy;
  • Mental skills: focusing on a task until complete, following a conversation, processing it, summarizing it, and taking creative leaps based on it.
Collaborate with:
  • Other classrooms
  • Partners/small groups
  • Through Skype/Mystery Skype
  • Google Docs
  • Blogs

From https://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/engaging-students/collaborative-learning.html

What are some examples of collaborative learning or group work activities?

Stump your partner

  • Students take a minute to create a challenging question based on the lecture content up to that point.
  • Students pose the question to the person sitting next to them.
  • To take this activity a step further, ask students to write down their questions and hand them in. These questions can be used to create tests or exams. They can also be reviewed to gauge student understanding.

Think-pair-share/ Write-pair-share

  • The instructor poses a question that demands analysis, evaluation, or synthesis.
  • Students take a few minutes to think through an appropriate response.
  • Students turn to a partner (or small groups) and share their responses. Take this a step further by asking students to find someone who arrived at an answer different from their own and convince their partner to change their mind.
  • Student responses are shared within larger teams or with the entire class during a follow-up discussion.


  • Stop at a transition point in your lecture.
  • Have students turn to a partner or work in small groups to compare notes and ask clarifying questions.
  • After a few minutes, open the floor to a few questions.

Fishbowl debate

  • Ask students to sit in groups of three.
  • Assign roles. For example, the person on left takes one position on a topic for debate, the person on right takes the opposite position, and the person in the middle takes notes and decides which side is the most convincing and provides an argument for his or her choice.
  • Debrief by calling on a few groups to summarize their discussions.

Case study

  • Create four to five case studies of similar difficulty.
  • Have students work in groups of four or five to work through and analyze their case study.
  • Provide 10-15 minutes (or adequate time to work through the cases).
  • Walk around and address any questions.
  • Call on groups randomly and ask that students share their analysis. Continue until each case study has been addressed.

Team-based learning (adapted from L.K. Michaelsen in Davis, 2009. p.215)

  • Start a course unit by giving students some tasks to complete, such as reading or lab assignments. Consider assigning these to be completed before class.
  • Check students' comprehension of the material with a quick multiple-choice quiz. Have students submit their answers.
  • Assign students to groups and have them review their answers with group members to reach consensus. Have each group submit one answered quiz.
  • Record both the individual student assessment scores and the final group assessment score (both of which are used toward each student's course grade).
  • Deliver a lecture that specially targets any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge the assessments reveal.
  • Give groups a challenging assignment, such as solving a problem or applying a theory to a real world situation.
  • For more information on this strategy at teambasedlearning.org.

Group problem solving

There are many instructional strategies that involve students working together to solve a problem, including inquiry based learning, authentic learning, and discovery learning. While they each have their own unique characteristics, they all fundamentally involve:

  • Presenting students with a problem.
  • Providing some structure or guidance toward solving the problem. Note, however, that they are all student-centered activities in which the instructor may have a very minimal role.
  • Reaching a final outcome or solution.

Problem-Based Learning is a collaborative, student-centered approach to learning in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem.

These games allow students to become leaders, followers, and peacemakers at different times; however, they will all be provided with the opportunity to learn and shine.

Grades 1-3

1. What’s in a name?


You can play this game with students of all ages, grade and level, depending on variations; however, we recommend this activity for grades 1-3 as it really helps students break the ice, especially at the beginning of school!

Arrange students in partners. Have one student begin talking about their first name to their partner, telling them what it is (if this is the first day of school or if they are new, or in case they didn’t already know). Once they have said their name, they can now share a little bit about it (give students about 2 minutes for the introduction). Some of the things you may encourage students to talk about are the meaning of their name, unique ways to spell it, why they were given it, what their name means in other languages, if they were named after someone, nicknames, last name, etc. After about 2 minutes, they are then to switch and let their partner discuss their name as well. Remind students to pay close attention as their partner discusses their name! Encourage them to continue to pay close attention throughout the activity! Once both partners have shared their names, pair one set of partners with another set of partners, forming a group of 4. The idea is to have each student introduce their partner to the two new students in the group. Encourage students to include as much of their partner’s description as they can remember. Each student gets a chance to introduce their partner. Watch and enjoy as your students listen carefully, repeat and get to know their peers!

Wave Stretching

This is a quick, fun, cooperative building activity with which to begin any lesson. Students have fun together as they listen to one another, and physically repeat what they have asked them to do. Watch how they look at each other, and literally mimic one another. It’s so fun to watch how attentive they are and how they work together to get the game rolling! 

Have students form a large circle (you may even choose to do this in small groups depending on the space). Begin by picking one student within the circle. Have them call out a stretch. Going either clockwise or counter-clockwise, every student must do the stretch one by one. The idea is to pass the stretch as you go along. Once the stretch gets back to the original student you chose, have the next student call out a new stretch. The other students will have to hold the initial stretch until the new stretch makes its way to them. You can play this activity for however long you’d like; however, depending on the age and grade level, you may want to limit the number of stretches and eventually increase in number as they become more familiar with them game, or as they learn additional stretches.  

Grades 4-6

1. Balloon Bop: 

This is such a fun game for all students! Great for the younger students to begin learning cooperation, but also great for the older students as they begin to master skills! You can play this as a whole class or in groups (your choice in number of students, size of group).

Materials: Balloon(s)

Students begin by standing in a circle, holding hands. The teacher drops one balloon into the circle. The goal is for students to see how many times they can tap the balloon into the air (students may tap the balloon with hands, arms, heads, shoulders, chests, or knees—but NO feet), keeping it up in the air, without losing connection (all students must continue holding hands). In order for this to work effectively, students have to work cooperatively, each of them making sure they are not letting go of their neighbor’s hands. They will soon figure out that they must all move together, as a circle, so to make sure they do not lose connection. If the balloon falls to the ground or a student taps the balloon with their feet, the count begins again. Depending on grade level, you can add more balloons to make it more challenging!

Before playing: Teacher can model how to tap the balloon lightly in order to keep the balloon up in the air. Try this with the students individually and then in partners. Once they are successful at keeping their balloon in the air without dropping their partner’s hands, add more students to the group until they form one whole circle. Let the game begin!

2. All Aboard 

A great activity to encourage students to cooperate and work together in order to solve a problem. This activity is best suited for students in grade 4 and up.

Tie a piece of rope in a loop large enough for all students in your class to fit within it and lay it on the ground. Invite all your students to sit inside the circle. Once they have accomplished this, congratulate them for working together to make sure they all fit and now challenge them to see if they can do even better. To challenge them further, make the rope smaller. Now, invite your students once again to sit within the circle. Once they have accomplished this, congratulate them again and see if they are up for another challenge. Continue to make the rope smaller and smaller until you see that your students are beginning to run out of solutions as to how they can all fit within the circle. Eventually, the circle will be much too small to fit every student. The goal is for students to cooperate with each other and work close together to come up with creative solutions. As you watch your students, encourage them by asking questions or to think about the various ways they can go about trying to fit everyone in. You will be surprised with some of the solutions they come up with such as putting only hands in, feet in, fingers in, etc. At the end, discuss what you observed and invite feedback. You will find that your students will just love them and the best part – they all worked together and had fun!

Materials: Rope of varying lengths, music

Grades 7-8

1. Human Knots

It is always fun to watch our older students work together to solve a problem. This game is geared towards helping students work together and problem solve, while at the same time, have fun! There are so many variations to the game. You know your students best – add in or change it up!

Students are to get into groups (between 6-8 people; you may also choose to form the groups) and form a large circle. They are to stand within the circle, crossing arms at the wrist. Next, they are to grasp hands with 2 different people across from them. Students must now work together to try and untangle the knot without letting go of any hands. Once they have untangled themselves, and are still holding hands, encourage them to lean back, balancing their weight and try to sit down, then stand back up again as a group. As an added challenge, depending on age, grade or level of confidence, have each of the groups race.

2. The Line Game http://www.pecentral.org/lessonideas/ViewLesson.asp?ID=6850

Divide the class into 2 large groups. Have each group stand at opposite sides of the gym. The goal is for students to work together to move their entire group from one side of the gym to the other. They are to do this by only walking along the lines marked on the gym floor. The lines must connect. Students are not allowed to jump from line to line. They may move backward, forward or side to side. But, once they pass the mid-court line, they are only allowed to move forward or side-to-side. To add a twist - the mid-court line is the safety line! All students are safe there; however, if the students’ path is blocked once they are on the opposite side, they are to step off to the side and go back, only to start all over again. A student is never out of the game until they have successfully crossed to the other side. The first team to have all its members on the opposite side is congratulated! Remember, students begin at the same time and move as individuals; however, they work together as a group, encouraging one another as they move along. They are each working towards the same goal – getting to the opposite side! 

Materials: Activity to be played in the gym with a number of overlapping floor markings (basketball & volleyball courts)