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Jigsaw Activities for Science Learning

Science Under the Microscope


I remember the day, during my admittedly short teacher preparation program, when I learned about jigsaw activities. At the time, the idea sounded complicated and unwieldy. This first reaction kept me away from using and designing jigsaw activities for the first few years of my career.


What is a Jigsaw Activity?

To give an overview, a jigsaw is a learning activity that divides students into groups in which each group focuses on a different concept, section, or skill. When they complete their work, new groups are created that include representation from each of the first groups. In the new group, each "expert" shares what they have learned and the new group creates a product to demonstrate their collective mastery.


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Jigsaws are particularly relevant to science because they model the way in which science, engineering, and medicine work in the real world. Groups of experts often collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams to accomplish goals and complete projects. Jigsaw lessons provide unique opportunities for students to learn from each other and practice the 21st century skills of collaboration and communication in an authentic setting. By using the jigsaw method in our classes, we are preparing our students for the careers that await them.

How to Set Up Jigsaw Activities

So, what do you need to know to make jigsaws a reality in your classroom? Here are some things to consider:

•Carefully arrange both sets of groups (the first "expert" ones and the second "multi-disciplinary" ones) to ensure diversity of skill levels and leadership ability.


•Assess students individually (not as a group) to make sure that their marks truly represent their own level of mastery (and not what the group overachiever knows).


•Give students lots of guidance about what they should be doing in each group. I find that the time and effort I put into creating scaffolding (worksheets, instructions, handouts, etc.) for them pay off when I get to walk around monitoring instead of standing at the front of the room dictating.


•Choose a captivating, authentic experience for them. If you teach the human body, let them become specialists in a body system. If you are studying fossils, assign your students to become experts on different time periods. Later, give the mixed groups mysteries to solve, like unidentified bones or undiagnosed medical conditions.


Jigsaw Resources

There are many online resources available to help you bring jigsaws into the classroom. is a website maintained by one of the creators of the jigsaw method, Elliot Aronson. He shares lots of ideas and resources for making jigsaws work in a variety of classrooms.


Education World
Ed World has assembled a very accessible instruction sheet with tips and advice for employing the jigsaw strategy.


Mr. C's Medical School Unit
Here are the handouts I created for a human body systems jigsaw.  I use in my own classroom. It's modeled after medical school training and kids really seem to enjoy themselves. Feel free to make use of it with your students.


Do you use the jigsaw method in your lesson plans? Why or why not? Share with us in the comments section below!

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