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Jigsaw - active learning technique

Last updated on 6 April 2023
Would you like to get students to collaborate and take responsibility in the classroom? Then you should definitely try the jigsaw method! This is an active learning method in which students become experts on one aspect of a topic and then share their expertise with others. With the jigsaw technique, students share most information in small groups, which helps to avoid classical lectures.

Jigsaw - what is it?

  • The jigsaw technique is very suitable for having students study information intensively and explore different perspectives on phenomena. They also practise explaining information and concepts to others.
  • Type: a short-term group assignment.
  • Suitable for large lectures, but also small working groups - preferably the groups can sit or stand at their own table.
  • Time spent during a teaching session: ten to twenty minutes.
  • Group size: three to six.
  • Preparation time: less than half an hour
  • Limitation: the content of the course must lend itself to the juxtaposition or contrast of information. For example, perspectives of different writers, researchers, philosophers or schools of thought (such as political streams, blue versus red organizations) on a particular theme. Or perspectives from different types of student groups (for example, international students compared to the classic secondary education inflow from Dutch schools - see the Mixed Classroom model). Jigsaw is therefore not suitable for concepts that expand on each other.

How does it work?

  1. Getting started. Introduce the assignment and state your expectations of the students and how long they will have for it. 
  2. Group formation.
    1. In a face-to-face setting: divide the students into groups of three to six students. A simple technique so that students do not always work with the same group members, is to give the students numbers, and then ask them to form a group with the same numbers. A useful way to assign different areas of expertise is to give them handouts of differently colored paper.
    2. In a blended setting: divide the groups in advance via Canvas and distribute the literature or problem descriptions to these groups. Indicate exactly how they should prepare.
  3. Distribute information. Assign each subgroup a different subtopic (piece) of the subject. Distribute this information or make it available online. 
  4. First studying phase. It is now the task of each subgroup to develop expertise on the subtopic by studying literature, brainstorming, developing ideas, and, if time permits, conducting research. Have students from the subgroups sit down together (in an online or blended situation, this can be done with Zoom, for example). First, the students discuss the way in which they want to study the information and discuss it among themselves. Clarify for the students that they are responsible for transferring the knowledge to their fellow students. Take about five minutes for this as well. Then the studying and discussions can begin.
  5. Switching phase. Once the students are experts on a particular subtopic, switch groups so that the members of each new group have a different area of expertise.
  6. Second studying phase. First, the students again discuss the way they want to process the information. Then the discussion starts. Each member shares their expertise, built up in the first studying phase.
  7. Monitoring. It is important to monitor the extent to which the students understand and master the content. Walk around the room. This way the threshold for asking questions is lower, and you can catch misinterpretations. Work with additional support materials where necessary. For example, you can create expert sheets with guiding questions so that the experts have a basis to fall back on during the jigsaw group. You can also provide a checklist, so the students can double-check the key elements.  
  8. Completion and feedback. Ask a few groups to explain their main findings for the whole group: what was the main problem identified, what were the main conclusions?
  9. Reinforcement. A possible disadvantage of this method is that the students only acquire superficial knowledge of the topics on which they are not experts. To avoid this, you can, for example, hold a knowledge quiz immediately afterwards using, for example, Mentimeter. A more comprehensive form is a report that they hand in later - a real puzzle about the topic.

Practical example of jigsaw at the VU 

Want to know more? Have a look at the following resources