Pedagogy in Action > Library > Jigsaws > Jigsaw Activities > National Parks Jigsaw

National Parks Jigsaw

Based on a webquest project by Mrs. Phillip - Starting Point page by Rebecca Teed (SERC)
This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Each group of students is assigned to a different national park. This jigsaw exercise has students in each group study different aspects of their park. The original roles were historian, meteorologist, geologist, and biologist, which should work well for an environmental science class. An introductory geology class might have groups of different kinds of geologists instead (depending on the park(s) chosen). These experts work together to generate a brochure or a website describing the park, with sections on each aspect.

Learning Goals

During this project, students will:
  • Learn about a landscape from a scientific point of view
  • Develop a limited expertise in a particular field
  • Work with other experts in different fields and learn from them

Context for Use

A view in Olympic National Park

This exercise can be scaled from introductory level to upper-level, and used in a variety of classes depending on the roles and the parks selected. I would give the students at least one class period and a week of outside time for research in their specialty, then another week to study their park and produce their web page or pamphlet with their base group.

Description and Teaching Materials

First, your decision about what the students need to learn defines which parks and which roles to assign.

A view in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • It may be helpful to give students of each specialty a list of questions that they should focus on. For example, if one specialty is "geomorphologist", the student should research:
    • Topography and surface geology of the park
    • Common soil types in the park
    • Running water and hydrology in general
    • How processes like erosion, sediment transport, and weathering are currently affecting the park's landscape
    • The Quaternary and some prior history of the park, past processes that have shaped that landscape
  • The student groups should receive rubrics or grading standards for all assignments associated with the project ahead of time.
  • Some advice on using interpersonal skills if this is the first time they have engaged in cooperative learning.

Once the students are broken into groups of four and the roles are assigned, students go to their specialist groups and become experts together.

  • The entire class should have learned some basic material from each specialty beforehand.
  • The sphere groups should do some new reading and research to extend that basic knowledge.
    • For example, the geomorphologists above could work together learning about the different types of soil found in their country after soil development has been covered in class, or how the ice ages changed the landscapes of the country
    • Biologists should probably learn about the role parks play in conservation, or the threat posed by invasive species.
  • This phase should end with a graded assignment (see below): ideally one which emphasizes individual accountability

When students return to their base groups, they will read each other's reports and focus on their particular park, applying their expertise specifically to its features and through discussion realizing how much their fields overlap.

  • The dependence on one another's expertise and the group project will create interdependence
  • At this stage, it would be helpful to allow the group time for face-to-face interaction

Teaching Notes and Tips

There is a page on jigsaw where the technique is explained more clearly in the Cooperative Learning Module


Potential graded assignments for the specialist/expert groups could include a group report that the experts can then take back to their base group or individual projects or a combination. For example, the geomorphologists can do a group report made up of individually-written chapters on:

  • The basics of geomorphology from erosion to deposition
  • The ice age
  • Soil types common to the country
  • Sediment transport by rivers, wind, and landslides

The base group will produce a web site or a pamphlet describing their park from a scientific (or historic) perspective for lay people divided into sections matching the specialties of the experts.

  • Have them work together on a joint introduction/home page to facilitate group processing.

References and Resources