This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: March 24, 2009

Developed by Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College

jigsaw collage

"When efforts are structured cooperatively, there is considerable evidence that students will exert more effort to achieve - learn more, use higher-level reasoning strategies more frequently, build more complete and complex conceptual structures, and retain information learned more accurately" (Johnson and Johnson, 1999, Making Cooperative Learning Work).

Over the years, the jigsaw technique has been the most popular cooperative learning strategy among faculty who have participated in On the Cutting Edge Course Design workshops. The jigsaw technique is a simple, well-structured cooperative learning structure that emphasizes both individual accountability and achievement of group goals, both of which are critical for improved student learning in cooperative settings.

What are jigsaws?

In a jigsaw, the class is divided into several teams, with each team preparing separate but related assignments. When all team members are prepared, the class is re-divided into mixed groups, with one member from each team in each group. Each person in the group teaches the rest of the group what he/she knows, and the group then tackles an assignment together that pulls all of the pieces together to form the full picture, hence the name jigsaw.

Learn more about jigsaws

Why use jigsaws?

The jigsaw is an effective way of engaging students both with course material and with each other. The peer teaching aspect requires that each student understands the material well enough to teach it to others (individual accountability), and each student is required to contribute meaningfully to a group problem-solving component (group goals). Research on this and other cooperative learning techniques shows significant benefits for students not only in terms of level of learning but also in terms of positive social and attitudinal gains.

Learn more about why jigsaws are effective

photo of students in front of a geologic map

How to use jigsaws

Designing an effective jigsaw requires different, but overlapping, team assignments and a meaningful group task, plus attention both to how students will prepare effectively for peer teaching and how the instructor will evaluate what individual students have learned.

Learn more about how to design effective jigsaws

See the Jijgsaw FAQs

Examples of jigsaws

The jigsaw is a hugely versatile structure that can be used in class, in the field, or in lab. Team assignments can be based on samples, data sets, field exposures, graphs, equations, maps, photographs, articles from the literature, and more.

See a variety of examples of jigsaw activities

See a variety of examples of jigsaw activities in the geosciences

Browse the full collection of jigsaw activities


See a list of related books and articles

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