Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods > Jigsaws > Examples of Jigsaws
jigsaw puzzle pieces 5 Jump down to a variety of types of jigsaws
Using graphs and equations : Using objects for analysis : Using data sets : Jigsaws and reading in the literature

The long and the short of it

The following two jigsaw examples lie at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of length and complexity and also illustrate just how versatile the jigsaw technique is. Following these two examples, you will find examples of many different types of jigsaws that can be adopted, adapted or simply serve as catalysts for your own thinking.

The long: Discovering plate boundaries

One of the best known and most widely used jigsaw activities for geoscience courses is the Discovering Plate Boundaries exercise developed by Dale Sawyer at Rice University. The exercise is built around four global data maps: 1) earthquake location and depth, 2) location of recent volcanic activity, 3) seafloor age, and 4) topography and bathymetry.
  • Each team works with one of the global data maps and determines where they would put the plate boundaries based on the data that they have. For a large class, Dale breaks each data-type team into subteams that focus on only one particular plate or group of plates.
  • After re-forming into mixed groups, each student teaches the others in the group about what his/her data set suggests about plate boundary locations.
  • The group task is then to combine the different data sets and work together as a group to determine where plate boundaries lie and why.
This jigsaw is an effective way for students to explore plate boundaries based on observations that they can make. The exercise takes three one-hour classes or one three-hour lab to complete. You can find the full exercise, data sets, and a Journal of Geoscience Education article about the activity at the link above.

The short: Igneous rock classification

At the opposite end of the complexity spectrum, is a very simple, but effective jigsaw on igneous rock classification that Jeff Niemitz (Dickinson College) developed for a large (120 students) introductory geology course.
  • As students enter the auditorium, they each pick up one rock from a box of samples by the classroom door. The box contains samples of granite, gabbro, and basalt.
  • The instructor asks students to study their rock samples individually and write down all the observations they can make about them. The task is simple enough to use in a large class without having to check on each student's preparation.
  • After giving students several minutes to study their rocks, the instructor asks the students to make groups of three so that each group has three different rock types.
  • Students teach each other what they saw in their own rocks, and the group then compares rocks, noting similarities and differences.
  • The instructor then asks groups what they have noted in their rocks and writes down responses on the board.
Students make all of the observations that one might expect them to make about color, grain size, and texture, providing an engaging base for the instructor to introduce igneous rock classification. Although the jigsaw assignment takes time in class, the instructor does not need to spend as much time lecturing about igneous rock classification. If planned well, the overall time committed to using this jigsaw during class is comparable to that of lecturing about the topic. And the students will retain a mental image of these three rock types.

A variety of types of jigsaws

Jigsaws using graphs, formulas, and equations

Short jigsaws during class that help students learn to plot data, interpret graphs, and use formulas and equations are easy to construct and valuable for students. The team assignment gives students an opportunity to grapple with a graph or equation and master it well enough to explain it. One effective way to have teams prepare is to have team members create their own concept sketches of the graph or equation. A concept sketch has a central graphic (e.g., a graph or an equation) that is concisely annotated with short statements (not just labels) that describe a student's understanding of the elements shown in the central graphic. A subsequent group task comparing team assignments provides students an opportunity to explore, for example, how a graph varies with different data inputs, how the terms in an equation influence the output, how different portrayals of the same data might result in different interpretations, and so on.

  • Each team receives and plots a portion of a large data set. Teams make interpretations based on their portion of the data. After peer teaching, the group then combines the data sets, works out an interpretation of the complete data set, and addresses why individual team interpretations (based on incomplete data) might have been different.
  • Different teams plot the same data in several different ways (log-log vs. semi-log, pie vs. bar); the group works out which is the most useful and why.
  • Different teams plot data sets (or analyze existing graphs) from different samples/locations on the same type of graph. After peer teaching , the group compares the graphs and analyzes why the plots are similar and/or different.
  • Each team works through the same equation but with different inputs. After peer teaching , groups analyze the patterns that emerge.
  • Each team receives a different equation, creates a graph for the equation, and develops concept sketches correlating the equation and resulting graph. After peer teaching, groups analyze why the graphs are similar or different.

Jigsaws using objects for analysis

Jigsaw is a terrific way to have students examine and analyze unique but related objects. Each student benefits not only from individual in-depth analysis but also from the picture that the groups put together by exploring a range of examples. Jigsaw is particularly useful if you have a great collection of objects, pictures, images, or samples, but you don't have enough copies for each student to work with identical ones. Just remember that this works best if you don't need students to know each example equally well.

  • Art history: different sculptures by the same artist, paintings from different genre
  • Computer science: different samples of bad code, contrasting examples of efficient and inefficient code
  • English: different passages from the same poem, passages on the same topic from different poems, pieces of text with different voices
  • Health professions:different X rays or sonograms from patients with similar conditions, audiograms from different patients
  • Graphic design: different solutions to the same graphic design challenge, different examples of horrible web page design
  • Archaeology: different samples of the same type of artifact, artifacts from thr same archaeological site
  • Environmental science: different coastal erosion scenarios, different viewpoints on the same environmental situation
  • Journalism:different news reports of the same event, different photographs from the same news event

Jigsaws for analyzing data sets

On many occasions, we'd like students not only to analyze a given data set but also to work with several other examples to see how they relate to one another, vary from one another, or can be combined to make a complete picture. Commonly, however, there's not enough time for students to do a complete analysis of several data sets, or it would be either repetitive or too time-consuming to have them do more than one. The jigsaw technique is a great technique to allow students to spend time analyzing one data set in depth, learn about others in less depth from a peer, and put together a complete picture that is not clear from only one data set. The team data analysis portion of the jigsaw could be done outside of class, in a lab session, or during class.

Jigsaws for reading in the literature

One of the problems with assigning outside reading in preparation for a class discussion is that, if everyone does the reading and comes adequately prepared, it's hard to "discuss the reading" during class in an interesting way. The literature is also typically difficult for undergraduates to read, and assigning multiple articles to achieve either breadth or depth might not be desirable.
  • Jigsaw offers an interesting way around both problems by having teams of students reading different but related articles and achieving depth and breadth in mixed groups.
  • The key involves selecting related articles and helping students prepare adequately. Telling students to "do the reading and come prepared to teach it" is typically not very successful. Having students prepare written answers to guiding questions or create concept sketches of key figures can help students prepare well for class.
  • During peer teaching, having students role play the researchers ("My colleagues and I....") sounds silly but is remarkably effective for changing the tone in mixed groups from classroom to quasi-professional.
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