Cooperative Learning:  7 Free Jigsaw Activities for Your Students


When it comes to cooperative learning techniques, I was surprised to learn that the jigsaw strategy has been used for over 30 years in the classroom. 

tive educational outcomes and reduces racial conflict. 

If you haven't had a chance to use the jigsaw strategy, I would highly recommend it.  

Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece--each student's part--is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product.  If each student's part is essential, then each student is essential. 

And THAT is exactly what makes this strategy so effective.  

The jigsaw strategy is a remarkably efficient way to learn the material.  More importantly, the jigsaw process encourages listening, engagement, and empathy by giving each member of the group an essential part to play in the academic activity. 

Group members must work together as a team to accomplish a common goal--each person depends on all the others.  No student can succeed completely unless everyone works well together as a team. cooperative learning

This "cooperation by design" facilitates interaction among all students in the class, leading them to value each other as contributors to their common task. cooperative learning

Lastly, the jigsaw strategy can be used effectively in any core academic area. cooperative learning 

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A Simple Jigsaw Step-By-Step 

As I mentioned above, the jigsaw strategy is a unique cooperative learning approach.  With this approach, students work together as a team toward learning the target material--particularly when that material contains several chunks of related information. 

Although many students will arrive in your classroom with some jigsawing experience, there's always going to be several who will have no idea how to proceed. 

For that reason, I would strongly suggest doing a simple one-class-period jigsaw activity before proceeding to more challenging and involved assignments. 

Step 1Start by determining your target material.  What is it that you want your kids to learn?  

Obviously that could be anything that you want to choose, but for this example, I will choose as the target material the question, "What does it take to become a successful student?"  

The answer to that question will become the completed jigsaw at the conclusion of the activity.

Step 2: Determine how many pieces there will be in that puzzle.  I'm using the term "pieces" to indicate separate chunks of information regarding the target material (the completed puzzle). 

  • For this example, those pieces might include the following:
  • Supplies and organization
  • Preparing to enter the classroom
  • Positive classroom behavior
  • Study and homework techniques
  • Other factors affecting school success

Step 3: Once you have determined the specific pieces, it's time to divide your class into groups (jigsaws) of four or five depending on the number of students in the class and the number of "pieces" for the puzzle. 

Have your kids sit together in their groups and explain to them that this is their home group or jigsaw group.  

Tell them that they are all about to become experts on one aspect of the question, and in order to do, that they will have to temporarily leave their new group and join an expert group. 

Note: I've found that this it's helpful to have numbered signs in each group area so that kids know what group they started in, what group they're going to, and what group they return to at the conclusion of the activity. 

Remind them to note the numbered group area in which they are currently sitting before temporarily dividing them into expert groups. 

Step 4: To form the expert groups, you can pick the simple and straightforward method of having your kids count off one thru five until everyone has a number and then group all the ones in an expert group (or piece group), all of the twos in another expert group, and so forth. 

Obviously, you may use your own favorite grouping strategy. 

Step 5: After the kids have relocated to the expert groups, visit each expert group with a note card containing the numbered pieces of the puzzle.

Explain to the class that each expert group is to brainstorm ideas related to their particular topic, but NOT ideas related to any of the other topics listed.  

So, expert group number one does Supplies and Organization, expert group number two does Preparing to Enter the Classroom, and so on. 

Remind them that they will need to take notes on what they are discussing so that when they return to their original jigsaw group, they can "teach" the other members of their jigsaw group what they learned. 

Step 6: After an appropriate time is allowed for brainstorming, ask students to reassemble in their original jigsaw groups.  Each group leader, then calls on each expert to share ideas from his or her notes. 

Step 7: Once all experts have shared their ideas, the jigsaw puzzle is now completely assembled and they will be able to see the overall picture of what it takes to become a successful student--the target material. 

Step 8: Now it's time for the evaluation.  For this simple introductory example activity, you may want to go with a very informal assessment.  For instance you may ask each jigsaw group to summarize in one sentence what it takes to become a successful student. 

Those summaries then could be displayed for the entire class to compare, contrast, and synthesize. 

Of course, with more complex and demanding jigsaws, other methods of evaluation would probably be more effective.

A Language Arts Grammar Jigsaw 

This example of a language arts grammar jigsaw will probably require a longer period of time than the example activity outlined above.

I would think that you would need at least two class periods or perhaps three (unless you're on a block schedule). 

As you know, grammar seems to be a difficult area for many students.   The eight parts of speech seem to be learned at various grade levels but then quickly forgotten by students.

This jigsaw activity may increase retention time. 

This takes very little preparation.  All that you would need are resource books with examples of the parts of speech.  And, if you're a language arts teacher, you probably have these readily available in your classroom.  

Step 1: Form teams and assign a leader. Each group should be four students. There are eight parts of speech and each student will become an expert on two of the parts of speech. 

Step 2: The leader should help the group members each choose 2 parts of speech.  You will probably need to group the parts of speech into two sections.  Although you may determine what goes in each section, I prefer to use the following:

  • noun, pronoun, adjective, verb
  • adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection

Then tell your kids that they are to find out the following about each part of speech:

  • Definition
  • 10 examples words
  • Rules about using the part of speech
  • Unique qualities about the part of speech
  • Use two examples of a part of speech in a sentence and underline the part of speech.

Step 3: Once the students have found out the information about the two parts of speech, you may want to set up four stations in the room (noun, verb, adjective, and adverb).

Then, you can have four of the eight part of speech experts meet together and then switch to (pronoun, preposition, conjunction, interjection). 

The experts need to talk to each other and make sure that they have their information correct. 

Step 4: Students go back to their original group after the two expert group sessions. Each expert then shares what he or she learned.   I strongly urge you to have group members take notes.  

Step 5: After each group member or expert has presented, ask students to study their notes for a quiz over the information on the following day. 

The jigsaw lesson strategy can be used in the language arts classroom any time there is a great deal of information to be learned. 

For example, Renaissance poetry can easily be organized into a Jigsaw lesson. It just takes a little planning, but students will learn how to work together to learn a great deal of information quickly.

Using a Jigsaw for an Author Study

An English class involved in an in-depth, 9-week author study, say on Gary Paulsen, would benefit from the jigsaw approach.

Again, you would divide your class into groups of four or five depending on the number of students in the class and the number of "pieces" for the puzzle. 

I'm using the term "pieces" to indicate separate chunks of information regarding Gary Paulsen. 

Those pieces might include some or all of the following chunks of information:

  • Paulsen's childhood and schooling
  • His life as an adult and author
  • Novel One--Hatchet
  • Novel Two--Dogsong
  • Novel Three--Dunc and the Flaming Ghost
  • Paulsen's awards and recognitions

For additional information about author studies and free downloads of associated materials, please see the Author Study page.

Examples in other Core Academic Areas

I'm an English teacher, so what follows here concerning jigsaws for other subject areas is pure conjecture on my part.  I'm merely suggesting possible pieces for jigsaws in the indicated areas. 

YOU are the expert in your field.  Take from this only what's intended--a kick start for your own idea generator. 

If you are a geography teacher, and you want your kids to learn about Great Britain, some pieces for the jigsaw might include some or all of the following:

  • Demographics (which, of course, could be further divided into separate pieces)
  • Natural Resources
  • Land and Water Forms
  • Imports and Exports</li>
  • Political Climate

If your math students are studying fractions, some possible pieces for the jigsaw might include...

  • Adding Fractions
  • Subtracting Fractions
  • Multiplying Fractions
  • Dividing Fractions
  • Practical Applications for Fractions

If you are a science teacher, and you want your kids to understand the carbon cycle, some pieces for the jigsaw might include some or all of the following:

  • Where does this process occur in the biosphere and geosphere?
  • What is the correct chemical equation to describe the process?
  • What is the rate of the process, with correct units?
  • What is the residence time of carbon in the reservoir that leads to this process?
  • How does this process affect or control atmospheric CO2?

If your American History students are studying World War II, some possible pieces for the jigsaw might include...

  • What were the causes of the war?
  • Who were the Allies and the Axis powers?
  • What significant battles were fought in the European theater, and when did they occur?
  • What significant battles were fought in the South Pacific, and when did they occur?
  • Explain the decisive events that led to the ending of the war.

Once again, the above suggestions are nothing more than that. 

YOU are the expert in your field, and only YOU can determine the most appropriate jigsaws and their associated pieces that best suit your educational purposes.

Conclusion of Cooperative Learning Jigsaw

Of all the cooperative learning strategies, I think that the jigsaw technique is the most effective. cooperative learning

After all, when kids learn something well enough that they can teach it to others, they have truly mastered the material.

There is a corollary benefit as well--students working as a team, with each team member contributing to the overall success of the group, learn a vital real-life lesson.

As you know, no matter how your kids will eventually be employed, they will always be part of a team effort.  

And, the jigsaw strategy allows them to hone their cooperative/competitive skills in an arena far removed from the athletic field.

For additional information regarding cooperative learning, please see... cooperative learning

Thank you for allowing me to occupy a small portion of your day today, and especially, thanks for all you do for our kids!

References cooperative learning

cooperative learning

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