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.

With this simple approach to group work, each individual has something unique to contribute to their group’s outcome, in the same way each piece of a jigsaw puzzle comes together to create a completed image. 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.

Advantages of the Jigsaw Method

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. 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.

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. 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, “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 Six-Step Process

If you’re interested in running a jigsaw activity in your classroom, follow this simple six-step guide:

Step 1: Organize students into groups of 4-6.

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 small 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. 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.

Add Your Own Variation

Teachers use an infinite variety of jigsaw methods to boost learning and cooperation among their students. 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 management, and leading the group. A science lesson might benefit from students learning different attributes of a given topic, then coming together to share.

A language classroom might ask students to look up various words and phrases in the target language and teach their peers about them. 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!