Introducing Co-op Subjects (Group Activity and Discussion)

From Cultivate.Coop

Introduction: This is interactive, engaging activity can be used to create a common experience between newly formed groups. It also allows these groups to begin talking about their subjects – in this case, cooperative education/development and participatory education. In addition, this activity allows groups to visually establish what they know at the outset, teach each other what they know (a key cooperative education technique), and begin to feel comfortable discussing the subject matter with one another. Finally, by returning to this activity periodically, groups can visually track what they are learning and how their understanding of participatory education/ at hand has evolved over time.

Synopsis: Before this activity begins, the facilitators put up a number of large easel sheets around a room. On these sheets are several open-ended questions relating to the participatory education and cooperative education/development. It is a good idea if some of these are more general while others are very specific. The participants walk around the room and write down their answers/reactions to these questions. They are also told that they should read the other participants' reactions. After this, the group comes back together to discuss their answers/reactions, any similarities, themes, differences, responses that stood out, how their answers and others' answers impacted their thoughts, and etc.


  1. Introduce participants to a subject and get them to start talking about it – general or very focused.
  2. Get participants to begin talking with one another about a co-op subject
  3. Begin to get participants comfortable with learning from one another.
  4. Have participants explore what they currently think they know and do not know about a subject.
    1. (Optional – for long workshops or curricula) Help participants visually track what they are learning over time, as well as help them understand how their views/information on a topic evolved from the beginning of the learning process to the end.
  5. This activity also outlines the general guiding questions for the participants to think about when learning about the subject at hand.

Time and Materials


  • Approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour (your choice). This workshop can also be broken up and returned to later in a workshop or curricula.

The time this activity takes will really depend on how long you want the discussion (see below) to be facilitated for.


  • Easel sheets
  • Strong tape
  • A number of dry erase or regular markers (at least one per participant)
  • Circular seating arrangements to best facilitate discussion


Primarily, this activity should be used as a warm up for newly formed groups. However, it can be comfortably put to use with already established groups – or co-ops - that are engaging with a new subject.

This activity can really be used when beginning to cover any subject – from co-ops 101 to understanding the cooperative movement, decision making in co-ops, and more.

It can also be employed in one time workshops all the way to entire curricula. Finally, it can be used as an entire session itself if the purpose is simply to introduce participants to a subject and get them discussing it with one another.

Set Up

Put up the easel sheets with your choice of questions around the room. Also put out dry-erase or regular markers.

Potential Questions

It is a good idea to choose a few very specific questions and a few very general questions. Use 5 - 8 questions, and if you have a lot of participants, it is recommend that you use upwards of 8.

Please help Cultivate.Coop by expanding the number of discussion categories and questions listed below.

Introducing Co-ops (Co-ops 101)

  • What is a cooperative?
    • What is a worker cooperative?
    • What is a consumer cooperative?
    • What is a hybrid cooperative?
  • What makes a co-op different from a traditional business?
  • Is a co-op humanitarian capitalism, socialism, communism, a third-way, de-centralism, or something else? Why do you think this?
  • What experiences have you had with co-ops?
  • How can co-ops change communities?
  • What is the cooperative movement?
  • How can co-ops be used for community economic development?
  • Why are you interested in cooperatives?

Teaching Co-ops (“Train-the-Trainers”)

  1. Who is the group you are working with and what are they trying to achieve? What is your role in their efforts?
  2. How do your interests intersect with cooperative education and development?
  3. How do you make your workshop engaging, interactive, and problem-based?
  4. What are cooperatives? Why are they important? What makes a co-op different from a traditional business?
  5. How do you assess participants’ level of knowledge on a co-op subject and their needs and interests before starting to work with them?
  6. How do you teach co-op development effectively in tune with groups’ specific interests, needs, abilities, and what they’re trying to do? (I.e. start a co-op)
  7. Why is this co-op education and development program important to you?s.
  8. What questions do you have about cooperatives?
  9. How do you involve dialogue within your workshops?
  10. What are good group problem-solving techniques?
  11. What are your strengths as a facilitator and co-op mentor?
  12. What do you feel you need to improve as facilitator and co-op mentor?
  13. Participatory education questions:
    1. What questions do you have about participatory education (and cooperatives)?
    2. What are differences between participatory education and typical educational approaches?


Walk Around

Ask the participants to approach the easel sheets with the various questions on your co-op subject. Ask the participants to look over these questions and write down their reactions and answers on the sheets with the markers you provide.

Give the students ten - fifteen minutes to do this.

Consider giving the participants encouragement to read over their peers’ reflections and talk about any . By discussing their understandings, the participants will add a “buzz” to the room.

If the participants haven't done so yet, make sure they take a few minutes - up to 5 - to read over the answers that their peers wrote. When they are done, ask them to come back to their seats.


Once the group is done reading and writing their reflections, facilitate a discussion with them based on the questions and their responses.

General Questions

  • Ask the group if they noticed any “themes” through the reflections/answers they all wrote. What are the themes and what do they mean?
  • What seems to be the general attitude of the participants towards co-operatives, the impact of co-ops on community economic development, cooperative decision making processes, or whatever the topic at hand is?
  • Are there any particular points or reflections written by another participant that stood out to them? Why?
  • Are there any agreements or disagreements present in the reflections? What are they?
  • What did this activity - the questions or their peers' reflections - cause them to think about? Why?
  • Any other questions you come up with. Also ask the group if they have any additional points or questions they want to raise.

Specific Questions

  • How does the group define cooperatives?
    • What are the similarities and differences in your various answers? Was their a particular remark about cooperatives that struck you as interesting?
  • What reactions did you all have towards integrating participatory education into cooperative education?
  • In what ways are cooperatives important to the group?
  • Are there any particular points or reflections written by another participant that stood out to you? Why?
  • Are there any agreements or disagreements present in the reflections? What are they?
  • What did this activity - the questions or your peers' reflections - cause you to think about? Why?
  • How can co-ops change communities?
  • What is participatory (or popular) education? Why is it significant, especially when teaching about cooperatives?
  • Ask the group if they have any additional points or questions they want to raise based on this activity and discussion.

Give this discussion 15 - 25 minutes

Potential Follow Up

If you are returning to these sheets in future sessions or at the end of a very long workshop, put a second easel sheet below the original easel sheet and mark it to differentiate it from the original (with a number 2 or with the date). Ask the participants to go back to the easel sheets and write how they would now answer/react to these questions. Remind them to read their peers' responses (and give them time to do so). Then, facilitate a discussion using any of the following prompt questions:

General Questions

  • How are their answers different now than they were originally?
  • Why have your thoughts, reactions, and answers evolved?
  • What themes do you notice in how their answers/reactions have changed?
  • What has shaped your changed perspectives?
  • What seems to be the most significant difference in your changed answers? Why?