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