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This time of year I tend to put a lot of focus on the explicit teaching of two very important social skills; Teamwork and Cooperation


Of course, teaching teamwork and cooperation skills are essential skills all-year-long, and are used in nearly every activity in school and in life.


For me, the importance of teaching teamwork and cooperation skills really seems to stand out, as I watch my students to playing sports and games at recess, and engaging in cooperative activities on the playground in in their classrooms. 



Teamwork and Cooperation are defined very similarly, and my students always tell me they are the same thing.


But there are some subtle and important differences that I like to keep in mind and the good news is, you can learn them too! This post will look at the difference between teamwork and cooperation and it will give you some good ideas on how to teach these skills in your classroom.


Let’s start with Teamwork


Teamwork is defined as:


A collaborative effort to achieve a common goal or complete a task.



Why is teamwork an important thing? 


Because we need to use teamwork in pretty much all facets of our lives. We use teamwork to further our success and to be able to do more things and achieve more than we could do by ourselves. Teamwork is an important part of life and students need to learn to be a team leader or one of the group members.


Why is teaching teamwork so challenging for kiddos with special needs?


Because successful teamwork requires many social skills including:



Do your students struggle with any of these different skills? 



Mine do.


In order to engage in teaching teamwork successfully, our students need to learn and practice each and every one of these important skills. It’s… A. Big. Job.





So how is Cooperation different from Teamwork?



Cooperation is defined as:


1. Working or acting together toward the same end. 


2. Assistance: Readily Complying



One needs to Cooperate, in order to be successful engaging in Teamwork.  



Why is cooperation important?


Because cooperation skills are essential to good teamwork and to moving forward toward a goal in the most effective and efficient way. 


Why is it so difficult for our kiddos?


If our students do not have the skills needed to engage in teamwork, they often get stuck in their own way of thinking/doing, and are unable or unwilling to cooperate, because they do not see the “bigger picture.” There is a lack of collaboration among students and they need to be taught to work together.


Cooperation skills also include being able to:



A real struggle for many of my kiddos…


How about yours?



How do we teach Teamwork and Cooperation to students who struggle?


I have found that the best and most effective way to teach struggling students how to use Teamwork and Cooperation is through fun and engaging activities and stories. You will achieve better results when it comes to successful collaboration of your students when they are having fun while learning these skills.


Students learn best when they are having fun. Everyone learns best when having fun. Think about the last time you had to sit and learn something that you had absolutely no interest in…painful, right?!


When students are struggling to use Teamwork and Cooperation, it can look like poor behavior and can be frustrating. Teachers may be tempted to bombard their students with lists of rules, rewards for “good” behavior and even consequences for not using good Teamwork or Cooperation behaviors. 


While this is a perfectly natural and understandable reaction, it generally will not be helpful if the students lack the skills needed to comply. As listed above, there are many skills needed in order to be successful. 


A better way to get students to demonstrate effective collaboration skills and how to be a team player, is to teach them through fun games and activities. While this may seem like you are rewarding students who have been engaging in negative behaviors, you are not. You are teaching the necessary skills, to do the complex and challenging task, of using Teamwork and Cooperation by working as part of a team.


There are soooooo m-a-n-y stories and activities out there to help you work on improving the new skill of Teamwork and Cooperation as well as the embedded skills needed. It can take hours to sift through the internet and find a few that work for our special needs students. Below are some of my favorites that I use with my elementary school, special education students, K-5th grade. I hope you can use them too!



My “Go-To” Stories To Teach And Support Teamwork And Cooperation


“Teamwork Isn’t My Thing And I Don’t Like To Share” by Julia Cook, can be a great way to introduce the topic of Teamwork with your students. I find that I have much more success with my students who are challenged by Teamwork, if we look at someone else’s struggles, vs. calling them out on their own. Through looking at a different perspective, this book offers many good collaboration examples that you can highlight as your reading. Lots of great discussions can come from this book. You can also role play some of the examples in the story. Don’t forget to look on the back page for some great tips and new ideas.


“Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown, is a classic tale and is wonderful for teaching many social skills including Teamwork and Cooperation. I like to have my students make their own stone soup by each bringing in an item and putting it in a pot. I then take it home and cook it for the students to enjoy the next day. Even my finicky eaters usually try a taste 🙂


“Up The Creek” by Nicholas Oldland is such a sweet book about working together for a common goal. This book is great for students who are bickering and need to figure out how to stop arguing for the good of all.


I love this book, “Shark In The Dark” by Peter Bently. It’s great for your shark and sea creature lovers! The story lends itself well to teaching about Teamwork and Cooperation as well as anti-bullying.


“Swimmy” by Leo Lionni, is a great story to read to a group or class that is struggling to work together for the greater good. It can also be another good book to read to address anti-bullying.


My “Go-To” Activities To Teach And Support Teamwork And Cooperation

The best approach to take when selecting team-building activities is to choose activities that get students moving. Kids love fun activities that get them up and moving while they are practicing teamwork skills. These are some of my favorite group work activities to support Teamwork and Cooperation:


1. Popcorn: A creative activity that uses imagination, flexible thinking, active listening, self-regulation, and of course; Teamwork and Cooperation.

2. Tied In Knots: This fun activity gets kids working together as team members to get untangled. It requires kids to be able to hold hands and be in close physical proximity to each other. Students will also practice effective communication as they work together to untangle the knots.

3. Octopus Tag: Kids love tag. There are about a hundred versions of tag. This one gets kids working together in much the same way a 3 legged race does.

4. Keep It Up: A fun and easy to play game with any number of kids. Just keep a few balloons on hand and your good to go! This is an easy way to promote team collaboration.

5. Stack The Cups: This game can be quite challenging but it’s tons of fun. I have done it successfully with K-5th so you can too! All you need are cups, a rubber band and some string.  


This post would not be complete without telling you what my favorite “board” games for working on Teamwork and Cooperation, are! Board games are one of the simplest ways to get students practicing teamwork and cooperation skills.


Must haves include:


  • Jenga
  • Dominos
  • Puzzles


I hope you have gotten some fun and different ideas and resources from this post.


Got some favorite games of your own? Let me know in the comments below!


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Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids


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