Lee Garrett

A teaching and learning journey through PE

Simple but effective – Cooperative Learning



Just recently I’ve been focusing on group processing in theory and practical lessons. We have started a new unit, Handball, and it was time to explore some more cooperative learning structures. Round Robin and Numbered Heads Together.

These structures were recommended by @VGoodyear. Check out the PE Practitioners Reseach Network here where there is an excellent community for developing PE peadagogy.

All videos are examples of 2 of the structures and the consultation work done by Ben Dyson and Vicky Goodyear.

Numbered Heads Together

Each team had approx 5/6 players. At half time, I asked them to sit in their groups facing inwards. The task was to discuss 3 positive aspects of the team’s performance and 2 targets for improvement. It was evident that immediately the conversation was going in the right direction and with everyone facing the inner circle it provided a nice little breeding pot of ideas. Once I sensed that conversations were beginning to go off task, I asked each person to number themselves. I then reiterated that every member of the team needed to know the 3 positive aspects and the 2 targets for improvement.  After another 2 minutes I then asked number 4 to stand and come to either member of staff where they would share their  discussions.

Round Robin

After another couple of games, it was the turn of the Round Robin structure. So back to the seated circle and this time, discussion was guided around the effectiveness of the team’s attacking ability. The round robin structure means that each team member  makes a response in consecutive order. The advantage of this is that each person HAS to provide at least one response that is different from the rest of the group. In Kagan’s terms this is positive interdependence and accountability.

My personal preference would be to merge the 2 structures together by using the round robin to engage everyone but then number players off and randomly call a number to feedback the responses.


The third and final group structure I have been experimenting with is the Think-Pair-Share. Again with a LG twist of intuition. This time, I was on a PE cover for a colleague (Yr 9 rugby). During the student lead drills of improving handling (developing the Social Cog), I wanted them to reflect on the progress of their mini coaching session. So in pairs, I asked them to sit back to back. For me this helps isolate and avoid distraction. After 60 seconds the pair turned to face each other and share opinions on their groups progress. After 2/3 minutes I then asked the pair to join with another pair (in the same group) and collaborate on ideas and seek way forward. Great discussion and certainly an improvement in the performance of the leaders and their organisation. (These are the times when I don’t mind being called for cover)

In summary

I have to say that this is still unfinished business as there are many little variations that could be included. The main positive of the above structures is the depth of group processing is creates. The round robin almost forces everyone to contribute (even the quieter ones) and if they’re lucky enough to be called during numbered heads together  then they even have to represent their group’s responses. One thing I felt as a teacher was the reduced questioning from myself as most of it was being done within the circle.

I think the danger could be too much dialogue and not enough activity. In a one hour handball lesson I used Numbered Heads Together and Round Robin only once. I think I may have had an opportunity to include perhaps one more group processing task but that would certainly be it. Nevertheless, the quality of engagement produced thoughtful responses and high levels of reflection.

3 very simple structures which can be used in a wide variety of environments and promotes a boiling pot of discussion. 


3 thoughts on “Simple but effective – Cooperative Learning

  1. Hi Lee
    Your blog and your reflection as I always say is really useful information for me and other physical educators.
    I agree with you I think round robin and numbered heads can be merged – numbered heads seems to be an extension of round robin and as you say enhances positive interdependence and individual accountability – keeps students on their toes.
    I like the way you asked pairs to combine with another pair during a discussion (think-pair-share) – did you transfer this from your use of pairs check perform? It’s a great idea as more understanding and more opportunities for face-to-face interaction and again further extends individual accountability.
    I think you have raised a good question about activity time and time for discussion – this goes back to the old argument of time spent in MVP in a physical education lesson. But from what I can understand your students are benefitting from these discussions socially and cognitively. When I did the session with Ben one thing I learnt from him is that group processing can be fluid. When we teach we often have a tendency to stop the whole class for discussion and mini-plenaries. Your blog has led me to think whether you could have the groups on their tasks and then when you see an appropriate time you initiate each groups to engage with group processing. For example, some groups it may be beneficial for their learning to have time to discuss in numbered heads together or round robin two or three times but other groups once. This would mean some groups on a task such as playing a small sided game and then others discussing – or you may pause a game when say you have observed something which then group processing may allow them to come up with their own ideas of how a game could be improved. This may allow them to discover the path of the next task where they can create their own learning experience. Then when you are facilitating other groups the number you suggest still comes with the answer to you. What do you think? Would this help with the activity time?
    I would say one of the most important times for group processing is at the end of a lesson so lessons link together and students can see there is relevance to what they are doing. It also allows them to modify the way they worked as a group together. It is almost like there is no beginning and end to learning.
    I’m pleased Cooperative Learning is making a cover more bearable – I bet you never thought that would happen 
    I always love reading your blogs its great and inspiring – and it’s awesome to know how Cooperative Learning is being used beyond the schools I am in and working with. Final comment is great ‘a boiling pot of discussion’, very true!
    Thank you also for promoting PEPRN – appreciate it.
    I always ask this, so I will again – what’s next? Need any more info from me? Maybe we should Skype sometime or google hangout it would be great to hear more.

    • Hi Vicky

      Just reading your response, originally I have been doing whole group processing but I think in the next couple of weeks I have 3 handball courts operating in the sportshall so applying the fluid process as you say will be interesting and of course visible differentiation. This should make it easier on the time v activity issue as not every group needs to stop. I will certainly explore that.

      At the moment, it seems the more structures that are explored the more you move away from the sort of traditional model, the sage scenario and become more facilitative which I much prefer. But when you start mixing up the structures and modifying them, the lessons become much more dynamic with a lot of thinking, reflecting and practical refinements. Isnt this being responsible, and resourceful citizens?

  2. Pingback: Cooperative learning in PE « Differentiation Daily

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