Deirdre Moore | May 2015

Team 20: Cooperative Learning Strategies Using Play

They’re vital to have in today’s fast-paced world. Developing these skills early prepares students in leadership roles. Cooperative learning strategies allow students to take ownership of their own learning when done well. Plus, it strengthens the 21st Century Skills of communication and collaboration all around.

One problem I have seen in many learning environments, and in cooperative learning strategies and groups, is that discussion is often hijacked by a few.  There are ways teachers can structure learning to minimize that from happening. But, how many of us educators take the time to teach our children to be aware when they are too passive in a discussion, or being too dominant?

Cooperative Learning Strategies that Work

I recently observed an enthusiastic teacher teaching artist facilitate a wonderful game.  There’s a valuable lesson in this game that could get to the heart of sharing the floor, or sharing leadership with others in your group.  This game called “Team 20” could be a great teaching tool for fostering cooperative learning behaviors. Also, it could be a fantastic jumping off point for discussion about those skills and behaviors.

The Objective Of Team 20

The object of “Team 20” is for the whole group/team to manage to count to 20 with only one person speaking at a time.  I watched this game played by a classroom of second and third graders. I witnessed some impressive growth in just 10 minutes of playing.  The game begins when the facilitator says, “Go.” At that point any student can say “1.”  If only one person speaks, then another student can say “2.”  This continues until 20 is reached.  Any time more than one person speaks at a time, the facilitator says, “Back to zero, go” and play begins again.

Challenges and Successes

The first few times this group attempted the count to 20, several students said “1” at the same time.  The next time, only one child said “1” but a few said “2.”  What I noticed in just the first few rounds was how much the game slowed. How much eye contact increased, and how quiet and still the room became.  The students focused and became aware of the others around them, and whether they looked as though they wanted to speak.

One way the facilitator helped students toward their goal, was to direct the children to notice when they had tried to say “1” several times in a row without success.  He suggested to them that they step back in the next round, and allow other students to say that number.  I saw them go from not being able to get past “1” or “2” to getting all the way to “15” after only several rounds.  However, on the subsequent round they only made it to “11.”  I could see they became too hesitant to say a number, getting too tense, instead of relaxing and using their observation skills.  Clearly, there was room for growth.


Another way the facilitator helped the group was to try the game, “Survivor Style.”  After a few unsuccessful attempts to get past “1”, the facilitator decided to try this twist on the game.  In this approach, all students stood.  If more than one student said a number, any student who spoke sat down.  This allowed the pool of possible speaking students to narrow, and helped reach that first “15.”  I would love to have heard what strategies the students employed to get to 15. Along with, what they learned about themselves as participants in a group.  I can’t wait to watch this group play again, and see what changes happen and what strategies are employed.

If you find your attempts at using other cooperative learning strategies are not as effective as you would like, this game might do the trick. Perhaps, it’s time to intentionally teach behaviors that will help your students be more successful. A great way to kick off that learning is taking on the challenge of “Team 20.”

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.