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What are Jigsaws

Initial Publication Date: March 24, 2009

The jigsaw technique can be used equally well for assignments involving data analysis or field work and for assignments involving reading. The following example provides a simple illustration of the elements of the jigsaw technique using an assignment that requires no student preparation before class.

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A sample jigsaw

This jigsaw assignment comes from a course in which the instructor wanted to give students experience in interpreting structures in map view. The picture at right shows the fabulous satellite image of the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco that forms the basis of the assignment.

graphic of jigsaw teams
  • The instructor divided the satellite image into four parts and divided the class, which had 16 students, into four teams of four students each.
  • Each team received one quarter of the satellite image.
  • Students in each team analyzed the structures in its quarter of the image, prepared a simple geologic map and cross section, and worked out a geologic history for their portion of the area.
  • Each student on every team was prepared at the end of the team assignment to teach to someone else the analysis that the team had developed.

graphic of jigsaw mixed groups

  • Once every team member was prepared to teach, the instructor re-divided the class into four mixed groups, with one team member from each team in each group.
  • Each team member then taught the rest of the group about his/her section of the satellite image, including the geologic map, cross section, and geologic history.
  • In jigsaw terms, this part of the process is analogous to putting all of the puzzle pieces on the table. But, as in putting together a jigsaw puzzle, the whole picture has yet to emerge when the pieces are scattered on the table.

graphic of jigsaw group task

  • The colors and patterns of each of the individual pieces are clearly different, and different team members brought portions of the story to the table, but no individual had the whole story.
  • The group then worked together to synthesize the analyses from the four different regions to create a composite geologic history for the region.
  • In jigsaw terms, this part of the process is analogous to putting the pieces together into a completed puzzle. Without this last step, a jigsaw just isn't a jigsaw!
  • The instructor then required individual follow-up in which each person created a composite cross section for the entire area.

Analysis of the assignment

An analysis of the assignment shows the hallmarks of the jigsaw technique:
  • The assignments are related. When it comes time for each student to teach the others about his/her portion of the image, the listeners will immediately see similarities and differences with their own image portions. Each student has some, but not all, of the pieces.
  • The assignment is do-able. The peer-teaching aspect of this technique requires that students are successfully prepared, and this particular image analysis task is, in fact, a tractable one for students in this course.
  • The group assignment is required to tie the individual contributions together to make a complete picture. Without the synthesis task, the individual contributions remain unrelated presentations. By doing the synthesis task, students in the group gain enough perspective to make a regional interpretation.
  • The assignment does not require each student to know each team assignment equally well. Individuals know their own assignments better than any of the ones presented by their peers. This is true partly because students must know their own assignments well enough to explain them and partly because their peers are typically not skilled presenters. In the assignment described above, this is OK, because the chief value of the assignment is what students learn by doing the analyses of their own map areas.
  • The assignment involves not only teamwork but also requires individual accountability. The peer teaching and the individual follow-up assignment require that each student knows his/her own assignment well and also that each student learns from the others in the group. This promotes active engagement and improves learning. It's hard to coast in a jigsaw.