How to Use Cooperative Learning in Your Special Ed Classroom

Cooperative Learning is an instructional method where students work in small groups to finish or complete a common learning goal and the teacher – that’s you! – guides them.

What’s great about cooperative learning strategies is that they aren’t for one classroom setting over another, or one specific academic area. They can be used across all settings and lessons!

We know that students learn in all different ways and modalities, and cooperative learning strategies are a great way to meet students where they are, let students to shine, and allow them to practice multiple skills at once.

Let’s take a look at how we can use cooperative learning in a special education classroom setting.

Before we dive in to the what or the how, I want to share the why.

Why to use Cooperative Learning?

Cooperative learning is a great learning tool that allows all students to learn. Here are some other important skills students practice when cooperative learning strategies are used – which can easily be tied into many student IEP goals:

  • social skills
  • communication skills
  • personal accountability
  • engagement + attention to a task
  • work together and personal interdependence
  • peer interaction
  • give and provide constructive feedback
  • teamwork
  • decision making
  • metacognition
  • encourages achievement
  • builds confidence and motivation

How to use Cooperative Learning?

There are plenty of cooperative learning techniques out there, but here are 5 cooperative learning strategies for special education classrooms to get you started:

1. Talk and Turn

Students have a partner that they learn to turn to when cooperative learning time beings, they discuss the topic, and face the teacher when time is up. Partners may need to be switched to keep things engaging for students. To add in a little movement, students can also get up and move around to find a partner to help increase attention and engagement.

2. 5 Whys (or any number)

The teacher introduces a new topic and students pair up. On one sheet of paper, students take turns asking a “why” question about the topic. You can then have students respond to the questions or research to find the answers.

3. Jigsaw

Divide the activity or task up into sub parts, and students are divided up into groups. Each member of a group is assigned a role. Students then work to become experts on their specific sub-topic. At the end, all team members come together to share information and knowledge.

4. Question + Answer

Half the class is given a question on a sheet of paper, and the other half is given the answer on a sheet of paper. They must work together to find the correct answer to each question and pair up.

You could even have students do the cooperative learning activity prior to the lesson, then you can teach the lesson and have students check their class answers after the activity.

5. Think Pair Share

After the teacher provides a lesson, question, or shares an idea, students are given time to think and write down their thoughts or a response. After thinking time, students pair up to share what they wrote down.

With cooperative learning, the ownership of teaching and learning is shared by groups of students, and is no longer the sole responsibility of the teacher. You can use the strategies at any time, and cooperative learning is great for assessing students quickly.

Do you use cooperative learning in your classroom? Tell us how you do so in the comments!


I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.