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The Jigsaw Method Teaching Strategy

Jordan Catapano

The “Jigsaw Method” is a teaching strategy of organizing student group work that helps students collaborate and rely on one another. This teaching strategy is effective for accomplishing multiple tasks at once and for giving students a greater sense of individual responsibility. Here is the basic way this popular teaching strategy is used in classrooms:

  1. Students are broken down into groups.
  2. Each student within the group is assigned a specific role or task.
  3. As the group works, students contribute their role/task to the group’s overall efforts.

With this simple approach to group work, each individual has something unique to contribute to their group’s outcome. No one else in the group is doing the same task, so each student experiences a higher sense of ownership and accountability to the members of their group.

The Jigsaw Teaching Strategy’s Advantages

The jigsaw method allows the teacher to break students into groups and assignments into smaller pieces, all for accomplishing tasks with more detail and collaboration. “Jigsaw” draws a direct image to a jigsaw puzzle. Just as the final image of a puzzle is constructed from many separate pieces fitting together, so too are academic tasks completed when members of the team offer unique, jigsaw-cut efforts to the group.

As The Jigsaw Classroom puts it, “If each student's part is essential, then each student is essential; and that is precisely what makes this strategy so effective.” When working independently, students are accountable strictly to themselves. The jigsaw method gives students a sense of ownership and belonging – feelings hard to experience when working alone.

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In addition to having shared responsibility to the group setting, students gain the benefit of learning from those different from themselves. While individual students could be required to do the entirety of a project on their own, the fact that they have the opportunity to listen to the perspectives of others enhances the quality of their education. Jigsawing requires students to listen and learn, and the group is rewarded when each individual contributes their skills and knowledge to the whole. Not only is learning improved, but tolerance and understanding is as well. Tolerance.org even shows how the jigsaw method could be used to improve conversations related to what makes students different from one another.

Elliot Aronson – one of the early pioneers of the jigsaw method – explains that the jigsaw approach creates a cooperative classroom rather than a competitive one. “In the cooperative classroom, the students achieved success as a consequence of paying attention to their peers, asking good questions, helping each other, teaching each other, and helping each other teach.” Students are not pitted against one another in competitions to earn the teacher’s limited time and attention. Instead, they are encouraged to embrace the knowledge from individuals all around them.

This method could also improve the quality of teacher instruction as well. Students are not so reliant on listening to every word the teacher says. Instead, they enjoy a higher sense of ownership themselves and a greater trust in their peers. Teachers do not have to lecture on every detail they want students to understand. Rather, teachers can put the responsibility for learning on the student, and travel through the room offering support and insights where they are needed most.

A Simple 6-Step Process

If you’re interested in running a jigsaw activity in your classroom, follow this simple six-step guide (or check out a similar 10-step guide by the Jigsaw Classroom):

Step 1: Organize students into a group of 4-6 people.

Step 2: Divide the day’s reading or lesson into 4-6 parts, and assign one student in each group to be responsible for a different segment.

Step 3: Give students time to learn and process their assigned segment independently.

Step 4: Put students who completed the same segment together into an “Expert group” to talk about and process the details of their segment.

Step 5: Have students return to their original “Jigsaw” groups and take turns sharing the segments they’ve become experts on.

Step 6: Have students complete a task or a quiz that’s reliant on them having understood the material from the contributions of all their group members.

During this whole process, where’s the teacher? At first, the teacher facilitates the arranging of groups, explaining of roles, and timing for each portion. Notice that the teacher doesn’t have to lecture or be the focal point of attention. When the students are in groups for steps 4 and 5, the teacher should walk amongst the groups and lend support or explanation where necessary.

Step 4 – the putting students into temporary expert groups – is often skipped in the jigsaw process, but it is an essential step. When students encounter information on their own, they gain a limited perspective on it or may feel confused. The expert group is an opportunity for students to share their ideas so they each reach a greater understanding of their same segment. This helps confused students clarify their understanding and lean on more able peers. It also helps each student article the importance points of their segment better when reporting to their jigsaw group.

The teacher may find it valuable to appoint one student in each group as the “Leader” who can manage time, make sure each student contributes their part, and ensure the group is accomplishing the goals. The most mature student in each group might be the best option; however, teachers should consider how the disengaged, the diffident, or the problem students might benefit from being the leader.

Add Your Own Variation

Teachers use an infinite variety of jigsaw methods to boost learning and cooperation among their students. What’s your favorite variation?

  • Reading teachers often assign each group member a different task related to a specific reading passage. Tasks might include students responsible for vocabulary, characterization, style and language, note-taking, time managing, and leading the group.
  • A science lesson might benefit from students learning different attributes of a given topic, then coming together to share.
  • If students each did something totally unique, such as reading an independent book, then jigsawing gives them a comfortable way to share what they’ve read and learn about other books that are out there.
  • A language classroom might ask students to look up various words and phrases in the target language and teach their peers about them. Or a math class might ask students to solve various equations, then jigsaw together to see that each problem was done accurately.

Whatever level or subject you teach, the jigsaw method offers you a chance to neutralize the problems of competitive classroom behaviors and build a cooperative environment. Consider how you’ll use this easy technique to boost the learning, relationships, and collaboration in your classroom this year!

How do you like to jigsaw? Share your thoughts on this approach with our TeachHUB.com community in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.