5 Keys to Develop Collaborative Learning Experiences in the IB PYP

There is no doubt that within most of the IB PYP units of inquiry we have those subjects that have to be addressed as "stand alone" lessons that require explicit teaching and a very real need for paper and pencil work. However, when it comes to engagement, we need to remember that hands on investigation, authentic application of the skills and student input is far more memorable for the children, enables transfer of understanding and supports a sense of ownership. Let's talk about the collaborative learning experience. I am using maths and reading skills as an example but it can be applied to any subject.  Welcome to OPERATION COOPERATION.

..... it is fundamental to the philosophy of the PYP that, since it is to be used in real-life situations, mathematics needs to be taught in relevant, realistic contexts, rather than by attempting to impart a fixed body of knowledge directly to students  -Oxford Mathematics & IBO

I will be sharing some real-world examples from my classroom with my own resources. Fully supporting the PYP's authentic and investigative approach, these inquiry-based resources provide comprehensive coverage of the PYP Mathematics Scope and Sequence.

  • Cover the strands of Number and Data Handling using the PYP methodology of constructing, transferring and applying meaning
  • Build mathematical knowledge and skills and explore the PYP transdisciplinary themes via related concepts within authentic inquiry-based activities that are rooted in relevant, real-life contexts
  • Provide additional opportunities to consolidate mathematical knowledge and those all important Approaches to Learning skills through practice and mastery - helping learners to grow in confidence and independence

Form & Function: What Does it Look Like & Why We Do It

There are very many right ways to approach collaborative or cooperative learning. A collaborative learning approach involves our students working together on learning experiences or activities in a group small enough to ensure that everyone has a chance to participate. Students can have their own roles within the group and work on separate tasks that will contribute to a common overall outcome, or they can be working together on a shared task. It is key to understand that this is distinct from unstructured group work.
  • Supports ATL skills
  • Promotes student agency
  • Encourages self/peer assessment
  Keep these 5 points in mind as you plan the facilitation: 
1. The most effective collaborative learning approaches tend to have group sizes between 3 and 5 pupils and have a shared outcome or goal. This goal can be structured by the teacher or student led. I have found that this can also be differentiated depending on the conversations that arise from the students and their ability with the task in question. 2. Children need support and practice in collaboration;  it involves multiple, important 21st century skills ( our ATL sub-skills) and those can be a focus with explicit teaching prior to the implicit practice within cooperative learning. Build up to this and then upon those skills which ultimately amplify learning. 
  • group discussion
  • problem-solving
  • constructive criticism
  • accountable talk
  • critical thinking
  • creative thinking
  • delegation
  • tolerance
  • time management
  • and so much more
The BEST Answer Activity This activity can be used with any subject and I have used it with maths and literacy, practicing skills within our units of inquiry. The example above comes from my complete unit of inquiry into Human Rights & Responsibilites. 
  • The children are in small groups. They each have a sticky note.
  • Using their text that they selected according to their ability and used for the inferring activity.
  • They have to answer the question on the template, citing evidence from their text to support their answer.
  • They each stick their answer on the template.
  • The group will then discuss each answer and decide upon one collaborative answer, based on everyone’s thoughts.
Self-Management: You can see in the example: some groups underline the important information on the sticky notes and used that as discussion points to build their final group’s “best answer”.
3. Tasks and activities need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some students may struggle to participate or try to work on their own. It is important to ensure that all students talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks to ensure they benefit fully. Using a strategy I call Conversation Bingo, really helps with this accountable talk. Developing communication skills is crucial for effective collaboration.
4. Mixed ability and ability grouping each has its place. Use your judgement to decide when this will work best for the children. Each class grouping has its own dynamic and we can absolutely build up confidence and skills with agency as we progress through the year. [caption id="attachment_10353" align="alignnone" width="1056"] Working collaboratively supports so many of those IB PYP Approaches to Learning skills[/caption]   5. Don't lose sight of competition between groups as an effective strategy. It can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively when they have that sense of solidarity in their team. It is also a great peer-reflection strategy after the fact. However, overemphasis on competition can cause learners to focus on winning rather than succeeding in their learning. You'll know your own kiddos and how to gauge this.
Hear from Others in Our Community Sonia Trakoo, an experienced teacher in the PYP from India, shares her perspective and ideas for bringing collaborative learning into her single subject on the IB's Sharing the PYP blog. 

" How we learn is as important as what we learn. "

In this article, Sonia underlines the value in using a variety of collaborative learning strategies to support the children's journey to understanding, as we are developing those Approaches to Learning Skills that AMPLIFY the experience. 


There is no doubt that social-emotional learning is a key factor is successfully developing effective collaboration. Taking the time to bring explicit learning to these crucial social and self management skills really does bring clarity to the children as they are developing the sub skills:
  • Awareness of self and others
  • States of mind via Mindfulness, Self-motivation & Emotional Management
  • Interpersonal relationships
I have many tools that target these key skills and have them conveniently package specifically for your Social-Emotional Learning focus. Take a look at the bundle here.  [caption id="attachment_10598" align="aligncenter" width="477"]
Targeting the skills within self management and social skills, this bundle offers collaborative activities to develop these crucial skills.[/caption]

Collaborative Learning Activities

If you are looking for some easy to implement collaborative learning activities, I have some ready-made for maths and literacy. Just click the links below to take a closer look. Literacy Grades 3-5

Grades 3-4

Grades 4 & 5

You can read more about collaborative learning in this article too, where I share more about integrating research skills and the Learner Profile attributes across the transdisciplinary approach.  In the meantime, I hope youre able to find some ideas to use or adapt to suit your unique group of learners. Enjoy!

P.S. If youre looking for additional support with planning a transdisciplinary inquiry, you will love my online, self -paced course, Essentials for Inquiry: Getting Started with Student-Led Inquiry. Take a look via the link.


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