The jigsaw technique is so named because students first form “expert” groups that research and refine their expertise in one topic before splitting up and reforming into “teaching” groups that contain a member from each different area of expertise. In their new groups, each student-expert teaches the other members about the topic s/he has become expert in. 

In a jigsaw, class members focus on a component of a larger topic as individuals, pairs, or groups, which they then share with the entire class or groups.  This is an effective way to accomplish a lot of learning in just a short time by dividing up the task and providing students the chance to be "experts" in a certain area.  Readings could be split up, different approaches could be researched, different experiments could be conducted, different opinions could be studied, etc.


Assign topics to student groups:
  • Decide how big you want each jigsaw group to be (4 or 5 students is typical). The number of students you have per group equals the number of topics you need to generate ahead of time. Note that, depending on your pedagogical aims, rather than assigning 4-5 disparate topics, you might assign 4-5 subtopics that belong to one overarching topic (for example, if the overarching topic is the Civil War, you might ask each group to become expert on: a) military generals, b) major battles, c) slavery and the outcome for African Americans, and d) the importance of the Mississippi River).
  • After they receive their topic, the idea is that all of the students in the initial group will now become expert in that topic. Be clear with your students about what constitutes acceptable evidence or expertise in your discipline. Do you expect them to cite research from peer-reviewed articles? Do personal experiences count?

Check the physical layout of the room
  • Does it allow for students to move around freely? Students in their “expert” groups Students in their “teaching” groups

Set time constraints for session(s)
  • A Jigsaw activity can easily be stretched over two class sessions. For example, you could have students work in their “expert” groups during session 1 and then have students reform in their “teaching” groups for session 2. Alternatively, you may ask students to conduct research as a homework assignment and to meet in their expert groups to share and discuss the results of this research immediately prior to switching into their “teaching” groups in the same class session.


Introduce the activity:
  • Exampe Script: Today we are going to do a classroom jigsaw. [Break students into expert groups]. You are now in your expert groups. Your task is to become experts in [insert topic here]. Spend the time you have together refining your understanding of [insert topic here]. [Have expert groups break apart and re-form into teaching groups. Teaching groups contain one member from each expert group.] You are now in your teaching groups. Each of you is an expert in a different aspect of [insert topic]. Your task now is to teach your topic to the other members of your group.

Keep track of time
  • Remind students when it is time to move from their expert groups to their teaching groups.


Plan a Post-activity exercise
  • Following the jigsaw session, it’s a good idea to ask students to write or talk about the information covered or the insights they gleaned from the session. A follow-up activity gives students the opportunity to consolidate information, ask questions about points of lingering confusion, and to reflect on new insights.

    • Have students create a poster that integrates their understanding of all of the different topics discussed during the jigsaw.

    • Hold a whole-class discussion to debrief the session. Aim to uncover any lingering points of confusion.

    • Ask students who were initially experts in topic A to report on their understanding of topic B and so on. Have they successfully learned a new topic at the level of the experts? Ask their peers from the original expert group to provide feedback on their performance.

The jigsaw classroom is a widely used cooperative learning technique originally developed by Elliot Aronson in 1971 at the University of Texas, Austin as a way to promote cooperation in the classroom by making individuals dependent on each other in pursuit of a common goal. Since that time, the jigsaw technique has been modified and used successfully by educators in a wide variety of classrooms ranging from kindergarten to graduate school.

The basic premise of the jigsaw is that students work in small, interdependent groups with individuals given the responsibility for becoming “expert” in one aspect of a topic that they then teach to their peers in order to accomplish a group goal [1].  In a common version of the jigsaw, students are divided into small groups of 4-5 members with each group responsible for becoming expert on a different aspect of the same problem or topic.  Each group discusses the material for which it is responsible until all members of the group understand the material well. The expert groups break up and new groups are formed, with at least one representative from each expert group in each new group.  Each individual then teaches his material to the other members of the mixed group so that everyone has a deeper understanding of the different aspects of the problem or topic. Students go on to do a group problem solving task or an activity that synthesizes the material they have learned.

The benefits of cooperative assignments like the jigsaw have been widely documented.  Reviews of the research have consistently found that when compared with more traditional competitive or individualistic learning methods, cooperative learning has a positive effect on student achievement, improves student’s attitudes towards their subject area, improves relationships between students and increases student retention [2] [3] [4].  The effectiveness of cooperative learning depends on the particular method used. The most successful approaches incorporate two key elements: group goals and individual accountability [5].

Variations on the jigsaw have been implemented effectively in undergraduate courses across a variety of disciplines, including statistics [6], philosophy [7]; biology [8], geology [9], language courses [10], psychology [11] [12], chemistry [13] [14] multi-disciplinary computational science and engineering [15], sociology [16] and interdisciplinary environmental science [17].

Studies of jigsaw use in undergraduate courses report positive effects when jigsaw assignments are structured to incorporate elements central to effective cooperative learning. These key elements include positive interdependence between students, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, emphasis on interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing [18]. Reported benefits include students taking more responsibility for their own learning, becoming more actively engaged, asking more questions and relying on each other for information rather than the instructor. In gaining practice in self and peer teaching, students deepen their understanding of the material and improve their communication skills. When every student’s contribution is essential, every student has the opportunity to contribute meaningfully.


-Bok Center, Harvard University


[1] Aronson, E.; Blaney, N.; Stephin, C.; Sikes, J., & Snapp, M. (1978). The jigsaw classroom. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publishing Company

[2] Johnson, D.W.; Johnson, R.T.; (1999). Making cooperative learning work. Theory into Practice, 38(2), 67-73.

[3] Springer, L; Stanne, M.E.; Donovan, S. (1999) Effects of small group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), 21-51.

[4] Johnson, D.W.;Johnson, R. T.; Stanne, M. B. (2000). Cooperative learning methods: a meta-analysis. University of Minnesota, 60 Peik Hall, 159 Pillsbury Drive, S.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455

[5] Slavin, R., (1991). Synthesis of research on cooperative learning.  Educational Leadership, 48(5), 71-82.

[6] Perkins, D.W.; Saris, R. (2001). A “jigsaw classroom” technique for undergraduate statistics courses. Teaching of Psychology, 28(2), 110-113.

[7] Faust, J.L.; Paulson, D.R.(1998). Active learning in the college classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 9(2), 3-24.

[8] Colosi, J.C.; Zales, C.R. (1998). Jigsaw cooperative learning improves biology lab Courses. Bioscience, 48(2), 118-141.

[9] Tewksbury, B.J. (1995). Specific strategies for using the “jigsaw” technique for working in groups in non-lecture-based courses. Journal of Geological Education, 43, 322-326.

[10] Qiao, M.; Jin, X., (2010). Jigsaw as a cooperative learning technique: focusing on the language learners. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 33(4), 113-125.

[11] Krauss, J. (1999). A jigsaw puzzle approach to learning history in introductory psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 26(4), 279-280.

[12] Carroll, D.W. (1987). Use of the jigsaw technique in laboratory and discussion classes. Teaching of Psychology, 13(4), 208-210.

[13] Doymus, K. (2008). Teaching chemical bonding through jigsaw cooperative learning. Research in Science and Technological Education, 26(1), 47-57.

[14] Doymus, K.; Karacop, A.; Simsek, U. (2010) Effects of jigsaw and animation techniques on students’ understanding of concepts and subjects in electrochemistry. Educational Technology and Research Development, 58, 671-91. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-9157-2

[15] Burkhardt, J.; Turner, P.R. (2001). Student Teams and Jigsaw Techniques in an Undergraduate CSE Project Course. 31st Frontiers in Education Conference, 2, F3D-12-17.

[16] Hedeen, T. (2003). The reverse jigsaw: A process of cooperative learning and discussion. Teaching Sociology, 31, 325-32.

[17] Choe, S.W.T.; Drennan, P.M. (2001). Analyzing scientific literature using a jigsaw group activity. Journal of College Science Teaching, 30, 328-30.

[18] Johnson, D.W.; Johnson, R.T.; Smith, K.A. (1991). Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.




Further Resources:

  • Fink, L.D., (2004). Beyond small groups: harnessing the extraordinary power of learning teams. In Michaelsen, L.; Knight, A.; Fink, D. (eds), Team-based learning: a transformative use of small groups: Sterling, VA, Stylus Publishing.

  • Kagan, S. (1992). Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Kagan Cooperative Learning, Inc.

  • Michaelson, L.K.; Fink, L.D.; Knight, A. (1997). Designing effective group activities: lessons for classroom teaching and faculty development. In DeZure, D. (ed), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development, Stillwater OK, New Forums.

  • Tewksbury. B, (2010). “Jigsaws”. On the cutting edge – professional development for geoscience faculty. Retrieved from http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/teaching_methods/jigsaws/index.html