Cooperative Reading

I started thinking about cooperative learning in 2010 and have made slow punctuated progress since. I know enough to write about it.

Back in 2010, I read and reread John Hattie’s Visible Learning. Among other strategies, I was drawn to cooperative learning.

Following a trail of references, I bought Graham Nuthall’s book: The Hidden Lives of Learners which confirms that students learn more from their peers than they do from their teachers.

Any teacher would be crazy not to make use of this.

The trick is to make sure that your students are learning what you want them to learn. How can you control what they are learning, when they aren’t learning it from you? I didn’t know how to make this work.

Then I read about cooperative learning. My first attempt was a jigsaw activity using past paper exam questions.  It worked well. My year 11s taught each other the methods for solving a range of exam questions using the mark schemes to ensure they were teaching correctly.

Then I forgot about it for two years, until I met Jakob Werdelin. Jakob is a Danish educator with many years of Cooperative Learning experience who happens to live near me. Jakob and I see eye-to-eye on much in education. We’ve had a number of adventures in cooperative learning together.

Our main project was to develop cooperative strategies to support reading in science lessons. We spent six months developing and testing cooperative reading strategies for science lessons, which we presented  at the ASE conference in 2016.

For this blog, I have explained a strategy called reciprocal reading which my students particularly enjoy and benefit from.

cooperative reading science
reciprocal reading cards

(You can download a pdf here).

  1. Identify a text you want your students to read. It can be more challenging than a text you would expect them to read alone – they share the cognitive load so that each student takes it in turns to practice the techniques skilled readers use to understand complex texts.
  2. Put your students into groups of three or four.
  3. Give each member of each group one card (only give card number 4 if there are four students in the group).
  4. The student holding card one reads aloud the first short extract of text – a paragraph or sentence, depending on the text complexity. Then she asks a questions about the text beginning “I wonder…”
  5. Student 2 then paraphrases the paragraph or sentence.
  6. Student 3 predicts what the next paragraph or dentenc ewill be about.
  7. Student 4 summarises all of the text so far.
  8. Once all 3 or 4 members of the group have done their task, they pass the cards round to the left and repeat until they have either finished, or run out of time.

I advise you try this with a group of colleagues before you try it in class. My students and those of colleagues we have shared the activity with find that students both enjoy it and work very hard. They practice the reading skills which have been shown to be effective. Even when they are skilled enough not to need the cards, we have found the strategy works well with challenging texts because the cognitive load is sufficiently lowered because of the cooperation.

Jakob and I have developed other cooperative strategies to develop vocabulary, problem solving and discussion specifically in science classes, which I will share here.



  1. Thank you, Ben! It’s inspiring to work with a teacher who not only knows and loves his subject, but its unique mindset of balancing curiousity with gravity that has shaped the world in which we live.


  2. I really enjoy this activity, since it allows me to circulate, informally assess, and assist those with issues. Two extensions that I have for this is a discussion of the information in the paragraphs, and the students then need to agree on a written summary. At the end, they summarize the text (see below) AND the process it took to come up with that summary (so they must listen to what other students say about the text). The most success that I have had in elevating student writing with this (and other tasks like lab reports) is what I call “you, few, class” effort, where each student writes a summary, then a pair of students discuss and write a revised summary, then I am fed ideas for a summary, which I write on the front board, and students write as the “correct” summary (as discussed by the class and wordsmithed by me).


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