Get Your Students Learning from Each Other in Your Math Classroom

Collaboration, team work, working together…so important in the math classroom.

Here’s why it’s important: when students listen to other’s explain their math they learn. Hearing different perspectives pushes students to evaluate their own math and learning. When students help others in math they learn. Students improve their own math, use of academic language, and communication skills by working together. Having students collaborate puts the heavy lifting on students, and puts you the teacher in more of a facilitator role. Overall, it supports a safe, welcoming, and positive classroom community for students!

So let’s talk about some structures and routines I love to use in my math classroom to encourage this value of learning and growing together!

*sidenote: I’m going to push the idea of collaboration a bit, and include some structures that may seem a little less traditional when it comes to working together. I think any time students are hearing each other’s thinking and providing feedback is another way for them to collaborate and learn and grow together!

So here we go!

Rally Coach

Probably one of my all time favorite cooperative learning structure is Rally Coach. Here’s a short little breakdown of what it looks like in my classroom:

>Students work in partners

>One is assigned the role of mathlete, which means they are DOING the math

>One is assigned the role of coach, which means they are observing and offering help

>After each round the roles switch

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>requires students to truly observe and listen to their partners math and math thinking

>students explaining their math

>students giving feedback to help push their peers thinking and give encouragement

>communication: asking questions, explaining their thinking, etc

Numbered Heads

Another great cooperative learning structure that encourages collaboration and working together. Let’s talk about how I use it in my classroom:

>Students work in partners

>Each student is assigned a number or object (like peanut butter and jelly)

>That number corresponds to a role

>After each round the roles switch

Here are some of my favorite roles: student 1 solves one way, and student 2 has to solve a different way (different strategy, model, etc) and then they talk about how they solved and evaluate each other’s math. Student 1 solves and student 2 checks their works and is the one to share out during the debrief!

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>teamwork and working together of course!

>depending on how you use it: offering different ways to solve the same problem,

students observing others math, students explaining their own math or the math of


>giving students the opportunity to critique and give feedback

Heads Together

This is a new structure that I started using this year and really like! I usually use it as part of our pre-brief before a task is given for students to “make sense” of the task together OR after students have been given the opportunity to solve as part of our debrief. It’s pretty simple but here’s how I use it in my classroom:

>Students are in groups of 3 or 4

>Each student is given a number

>Students put their heads together and discuss (I usually keep it open-ended at first and then may have some more targeted questions for them to discuss)

>When we come together to discuss as whole group I use the numbers given to students to share out, for example “if you were a 1 can you share something your group talked about?”

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>students learning together of course

>students asking each other questions, providing feedback, explaining their thinking, etc

>putting the heavy lifting on students to make sense of a problem or explain how they


>students hearing multiple perspectives

“Fish Bowl”

This strategy is typically used as a discussion strategy so it is a little outside of the box when it comes to collaboration but hear me out! It’s the perfect way to debrief a math task, have students listen to others perspectives on solving, and then respond.

So here’s how I use this strategy in my classroom, it’s definitely a modified version:

>students sit in a circle (usually positioned at the front of the room and I usually have the board available so students can access that if needed)

>3-5 students are chosen to be the “fish” and discuss how they solved (I pick these students strategically based on observations when the students are solving the task)

>Their role is to show and explain how they did the math and solved

>The students in the circle are listening and taking notes during this time

>After all students have shared the students in the circle are then able to critique, agree/disagree, ask questions, etc

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>listening and responding to different perspectives

>students explaining their math

>students giving and receiving feedback

>students doing the heavy lifting and you the teacher stepping back as facilitator

>learning and growing together of course!

okay that’s it!

I encourage you to try one of those structures in your classroom!

After all, teamwork makes the dream work!

Check out this Teamwork resource, it’s a great way to launch or revisit this value in your classroom!