Jigsaw: An Example of Collaborative Learning in Class

Do you want your students to work together in class, while they all take responsibility for (part of) the work? Then try the jigsaw teaching method! 

What is Jigsaw? 

Jigsaw is a form of collaborative learning, and goes back to the principle of a jigsaw puzzle. The lecturer divides the content into equal parts (i.e. the jigsaw pieces). Afterwards, the students solve the jigsaw puzzle together and arrive at a logical entity (the jigsaw puzzle). You can use this teaching method with more complex teaching contents, but preferably not with totally new concepts. Students should be able to put the content side by side. The jigsaw method is therefore not suitable for progressive learning content.  

How to Use Jigsaw? 

  • form jigsaw groups of four to six students and ask those groups to rejoin at a later stage. (You can also omit this phase. However, it makes it easier to divide the students into well-formed jigsaw groups afterwards);
  • divide the content in four to six equal parts. Divide the students again so that one person from each jigsaw group moves to the expert group. These students become 'experts' in that piece of content. They read the information offered and/or search for information, discuss the ambiguities, maybe carry out an assignment... 
  • let the students return to the original jigsaw groups. At this stage, the students present the content in which they have become 'experts'. You can also link an additional assignment to this.  

Jigsaw: What are the Points to Consider? 

  • monitor the groups properly so that you can gauge to what extent the students understand and master the content. Walking around the room lowers the barrier for asking questions, and enables you to pick up on possible misinterpretations;  
  • if necessary, work with additional supporting material. Create e.g. expert sheets containing target questions so that the designated 'experts' have something to fall back on in their jigsaw group. You can also offer a checklist for the students to use in order to double-check key elements;  
  • make it clear to students that they are responsible for the transfer of knowledge to their fellow students; 
  • if necessary, organize classroom feedback and/or a quiz at the end of the class to assess whether all students have mastered the content. 

Practical Example of Jigsaw 

This practical example is taken from the course unit 'Powerful Learning Environments' in Teaching Methodology Educational Science in the context of Ghent University's Specific Teacher Training Programme. The aim of the jigsaw is to introduce students to different methods for preparing lessons. 

Why the Master Programme in Teaching Chooses Jigsaw 

The choice of teaching method is motivated by the teach what you preach principle. Students experience this teaching method themselves and can use this later during their internship. In addition, students receive many ideas about teaching in a fairly short period of time and there is a lot of interaction between students. 

What Does the Jigsaw Look Like? 

  • in the preceding class, students choose one of the four lesson topics with corresponding target groups and teaching objectives (max. 5 students per group). This way, expert groups are formed immediately. The students collect source materials on the chosen topic and possible teaching methods in advance and bring it to the next class;
  • during class, the students in the expert group jointly prepare a lesson plan for the chosen topic, which includes the best ideas for class. Each group then prepares for the exchange by selecting the three best lesson ideas and presenting them (based on a diagram, a powerpoint presentation...);
  • as the students set to work, teaching assistants are available for answering questions. They also give each student a coloured card. Using those cards makes it very easy to form jigsaw groups afterwards. The students in these groups each propose the three chosen lesson ideas; 
  • afterwards, there is also a classroom review of the content that was discussed during the jigsaw, as well as a reflection on the jigsaw itself; 
  • Please note: depending on the number of students, there can be one or more groups per topic/expert group. There are a maximum of five students in an expert group. Since the Specific Teacher Training Programme usually works with small student groups, and the students are very self-managing, not much support by the teaching assistants is required. If support is needed, the Specific Teacher Training Programme provides each expert group with additional supporting documents. 

What Do Students Think of Jigsaw? 

Students appreciate the teach what you preach principle. In addition, they find that active learning promotes learning from each other, which is very valuable and pleasant. 

Want to Know More? 

  • Casteleyn, H. (2012). Jigsaw tijdens de lessen wereldoriëntatie. Een studie naar de impact van een training sociale vaardigheden bij de Jigsawmethode op leerprestaties, motivatie en peerrelaties. [Masterproef]. Gent: Universiteit Gent. 
  • Van Petegem P. (2009). Activerend hoger onderwijs. Leuven: Lannoo Campus 

Last modified Jan. 26, 2021, 4:19 p.m.