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Young pupils who work in groups learn how to compromise and resolve petty arguments as well as making rapid progress in maths, science and reading, a new study reveals.
The study from the Institute of Education at London University suggests that teachers should act as "guides on the side" of the groups, rather than directly teaching children in the traditional whole-of-class way.
The project, involving more than 4,000 pupils, aged between five and 14, found children who worked together in groups made rapid progress and behaved well.
Pupils became more focused on their work and the amount of thoughtful discussion between children more than doubled in many classes, the study found.
One of the projects' researchers, Ed Baines, said: "Group work serves the learning needs of pupils. What teachers should do is encourage pupils to get over their personal difficulties. Teachers shouldn't dominate a group but support it."
Dr Baines said there was "very little effective group work in schools" and most of it only occurred in PE or social activities outside the classroom.
However, the project's findings have come under fire from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, (NASUWT), which accused the researchers of not living in "the real world".
Chris Keates, the NASUWT general secretary, said it was unrealistic to for teachers to "stand back while children argue, shout, cry and storm off".
Parents would be likely to complain when their children reported back what had happened in class, she said.
However, Sally Barnes from the Early Years Curriculum Group, said children should be encouraged to work through problems together.
Ms Barnes said: "The most able teachers get children to work in groups and learn to negotiate their own problems but always with the support of the teacher. A teacher would never walk off, no one would ever do that, but children do learn to be more independent if they work in groups.
"Teachers shouldn't just stand and teach whole class stuff. That's an old-fashioned way of doing things. If children learn in groups consistently, then they really can learn to work together."
Some teachers involved in the study reported that they found it hard not to intervene but one London teacher Jodie Corbett said: "At first we watched and supported groups of children as they argued, shouted, sulked, cried or even stormed off. We were very tempted to intervene, but the researchers said it was important that the children worked through these difficulties.
"After a while we realised the noise we could hear was actually productive noise. They weren't arguing or talking about last night's EastEnders, they were actively engaged with their work. They can now work together for sustained periods and solve problems together."
The study found science education in junior schools could be transformed by grouping pupils. The results also showed significant improvements in reading and maths in primary schools.
Pupils learned to be more independent and communicate better with each other.
Dr Baines said the project group was not suggesting that teachers should only rely on group work but it should complement whole class and individual learning.
He said: "It's about using group work strategically, not exclusively."