Paper Figure Jigsaw

Students develop skills in critical paper reading by working through a series of active learning exercises. At different stages of the jigsaw activity, students work together to develop an understanding of one piece of the figure, and then teach and learn from each other in a dynamic classroom.

Goal: To develop reading skills in primary literature.


Before class.

  • Students are asked to read a primary paper before attending class.
  • The instructor prepares an in class worksheet asking questions about all of the figures in the paper, but instructs one table of four students to focus only on one figure, for example, and have a second table focus on the second figure.
  • The inclass worksheet asks specific questions about each figure, such as "what are the axes" or "what are the positive controls?"

In class.

  • The tables are arranged so that four students can sit in a group.
  • Each person in a 4person group gets a playing card: one heart, one spade, one diamond, and one club.
  • After ~25 minutes of working in groups of 4 on a particular figure, the instructor shuffles the group so that all the "hearts," "diamonds," "spades" and "clubs" now work together.
  • The new group then has one "expert" that just spent 25 minutes in group work answering the question.
  • Now, the new groups get 1/2 hour to teach each other about the other three figures. Everyone in the new group is an expert, and can have a voice in peer instruction, and everyone must learn from their peers.


  • According to the instructor, this activity is dynamic because it randomly mixes up working partners, allots space for EVERYONE to contribute, and makes students come prepared to engage in learning.
  • The instructor recommends taking some time to plan the activity. At the end, we re-convene and go through the entire worksheet (all figures) together. You can all on anyone and they should have a thoughtful answer because they've had a lot of time discussing it with their peers.


  • They were rearranged in a jig-saw to learn from their peers how to evaluate the other figures. At the end of class, we went over the entire worksheet.


  • Assessment is performed in two phases.
    • First, the instructor and a TA circle the room to answer questions groups have, offering advice where necessary.
    • The second assessment is a final class discussion, where the instructor calls on volunteers to help explain their reasoning.


  • A complete analysis of a primary manuscript.

Submitted by Christopher Burtner, Harvard Extension School