Deirdre Moore | July 2015

“It’s Not My Fault!” Using Theatre Games to Improve Student Cooperation

“We didn’t have enough time.”  “He wasn’t listening to the directions.”  “They were doing it wrong.”

How many times have you heard these excuses from students that haven’t met an objective while working in groups?  How often do students first identify what s/he could have done differently? What they could have done to help ensure the group met the objective, rather than blaming the fault on someone else?  I learned a game from Sean Layne of Focus Five, Inc. that could change that dynamic in your classroom.  He calls it, appropriately enough, The Cooperation Challenge.

The Game,

The object of the game is for the students to work together to create groupings of specified numbers in a certain amount of time.  For example, “By the time I count to 4, be in groups of more than 3.”  If the students meet the challenge, then the game continues.  If not, the whole class sits down on the “observation deck”.  A place for students not exhibiting expected behavior to sit and observe others who are.  Once all are seated, the teacher processes what prevented the class/team from the meeting the challenge.

What Is The Purpose?

What is so powerful about this approach is the intention of teaching students meeting the challenge is EVERYONE’s responsibility.  If there is even one group that does not have the specified number of students in their grouping, the whole class/team has not met the challenge.  In questioning the team about what prevented them from meeting the challenge, responses might range from, “I didn’t invite those who didn’t have a group into my group” to “I was focused on myself and the fact that my grouping had the correct number.”  The beauty is each child becomes aware that s/he could have and should have helped to be sure that the challenge was met.  Students so frequently blame others, rather than looking to themselves for what they might have done to help the team meet the objective.  It is both eye-opening and empowering.

On the flip side, students may be asked to make only one group with no more than 6 people.  If the class has 26 students, at least 20 students should sit down.  This goes so contrary to our nature.  We want to keep playing the game.  We want to “win”.  Sean Layne makes clear that if 20 students make the choice to sit, and 6 students make the choice to form a small group, the whole team wins. This is because everyone made a choice that helped meet the objective.  He explains when students work in cooperative groups, and they have competing ideas, or a lack of ideas preventing them from meeting the objective, the students have not yet learned that sometimes you need to pull your idea back (sitting down). Sometimes you need to step up, and offer your idea (forming the group of 6), in order for the whole team to “win”.

So What?

I love this simple game which helps students practice such a complex understanding.  In an easy to understand way, students can really learn and put into practice what it means to “take one for the team”, to really look out for one another and to do what is best for the whole group – not what is best for them as an individual or a small group.  If the students in your classroom can achieve this level of cooperation, working in cooperative groups may become a much more enjoyable and productive activity and the students will have learned a valuable life lesson about true cooperation!

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.