4 Things You Don’t Know About the Jigsaw Method


This cooperative learning strategy has been around for decades, but how well do you really know it?


Say “Jigsaw” in some teaching circles and no one will bat an eyelash. It’s one of those techniques that has been with us so long, it is no longer seen as new. When considering methods to share in my collection of instructional strategies, I ignored it for a long time because I assumed most people already knew how to use it. Still, I figured it was worth including at some point.

When I finally sat down to review the steps of Jigsaw, I came across a few surprises.

1. Jigsaw was created as an antidote to racial tensions.

Although Jigsaw is typically presented as just one in a number of cooperative learning strategies, its origin story has little to do with academics. The strategy was developed by social psychologist Elliot Aronson in 1971 in response to the racial turmoil caused by recent school desegregation in Austin, Texas. “Long-standing suspicion, fear, and distrust between groups produced an atmosphere of turmoil and hostility,” Aronson recalls on his website, The Jigsaw Classroom. “Fist-fights erupted in corridors and schoolyards across the city. The school superintendent called me in to see if we could do anything to help students get along with one another.”

Rather than take a crisis management approach to the situation, which they believed would only put a band-aid on the problem, Aronson and his colleagues wanted a solution that was more organic, something built into the structure of students’ everyday learning. What they came up with was Jigsaw, an instructional approach that required students to learn from each other, rather than from the teacher. Because students in a Jigsaw classroom could not succeed without one another, they had to learn to get along. “Learning from each other gradually diminishes the need to try to out-perform each other because one student’s learning enhances the performance of the other students instead of inhibiting it, as is usually the case in most competitive, teacher-oriented classrooms.”

For a more thorough understanding of the strategy and its history, read the Jigsaw Classroom’s Jigsaw Basics white paper.

2. Jigsaw is a social-emotional powerhouse.

Although cooperative learning in general has been proven to have a strong positive impact on learning (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001), researchers have found that Jigsaw in particular improves students’ social-emotional learning. In studies comparing Jigsaw with traditional direct instruction, students taught with the Jigsaw method demonstrated increased feelings of autonomy, competence, and intrinsic motivation (Hänze & Berger, 2007). Another study comparing Jigsaw with cooperative learning that didn’t include interdependence (a hallmark of Jigsaw) found that the Jigsaw students demonstrated improved attitudes toward their peers and reduced indicators of racial prejudice (Walker & Crogan, 1998).

Many teachers are looking for ways to help students become more independent learners who also function well in groups. If done correctly, Jigsaw can fulfill all of those needs without ever losing academic rigor.

3. You might be doing it wrong.

As a teacher, I never received any formal training in this strategy, and when I tried it, I found it didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped. After studying the steps again, I realized I was organizing my groups the wrong way. Plus, I never bothered to give the quiz at the end.

Anyway, here’s a video overview of the steps. If you’re new to the strategy, this will show you how to do it. If, like me, you’ve tried it without success, this may help you fine-tune:



Want these steps written down? Click here to download a free copy (will open in a new window).

4. There’s a Jigsaw II, III and IV.

I had no clue about this! Since the original Jigsaw strategy was developed, other educators have improved on it with their own variations (Coffey, n.d):

Jigsaw II has all students read all of the material, but then specialize in one area for their expert groups. Then, when quiz time comes, students’ individual scores are averaged within each group to arrive at a group score, which is then compared with other groups. This encourages groups to work harder to ensure that all members learn.

Jigsaw III builds in a group review before the final quiz.

Jigsaw IV adds a few extra components to Jigsaw III: The teacher starts by introducing the material, quizzes are given to the expert groups, and a re-teaching period is built in to address material that wasn’t taught well in cooperative groups.

I should mention that clear information on these three variations was very challenging to find; with that in mind, I believe there’s a need for a well-written set of instructions to help teachers give each variation a try.


So how do you like them apples? Kind of makes you want to get Jiggy with it, no? (Sorry, I couldn’t help it. It was sitting right there.) If you have experience with Jigsaw and have insights or tips to add, please comment below. If you have questions about implementation, let’s hear those, too.

Jiggy. ♥



Coffey, H. (n.d.). Jigsaw (Educator’s guides: North Carolina digital history). Retrieved from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-eg/4584#noteref5

Hänze, M., & Berger, R. (2007). Cooperative learning, motivational effects, and student characteristics: An experimental study comparing cooperative learning and direct instruction in 12th grade physics classes. Learning and Instruction, 17(1), 29-41. Retrieved fromhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959475206001174

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Silver, H. F., Strong, R. W., & Perini, M. J. (2007). The strategic teacher: Selecting the right research-based strategy for every lesson. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Walker, I. (1998). Academic performance, prejudice, and the jigsaw classroom: New pieces to the puzzle. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 8(6), 381-393. Retrieved from http://uwf.edu/svodanov/AS/Jigsaw.pdf


Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
See the full, original article here.