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Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy that asks groups of students to become “experts” on different aspects of a topic and then share what they learn with their classmates.

Key Information



When To Use This Strategy

Before reading
During reading
After reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

What is jigsaw?

Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy that enables each student of a “home” group to specialize in one aspect of a topic (for example, one group studies habitats of rainforest animals, another group studies predators of rainforest animals). Students meet with members from other groups who are assigned the same aspect, and after mastering the material, return to the “home” group and teach the material to their group members. With this strategy, each student in the “home” group serves as a piece of the topic’s puzzle and when they work together as a whole, they create the complete jigsaw puzzle.

Why use jigsaw?

  • It helps build comprehension.
  • It encourages cooperative learning among students.
  • It helps improve listening, communication, and problem-solving skills.

How to use jigsaw

  1. Introduce the strategy and the topic to be studied.
  2. Assign each student to a “home group” of 3-5 students who reflect a range of reading abilities.
  3. Determine a set of reading selections and assign one selection to each student.
  4. Create “expert groups” that consist of students across “home groups” who will read the same selection.
  5. Give all students a framework for managing their time on the various parts of the jigsaw task.
  6. Provide key questions to help the “expert groups” gather information in their particular area.
  7. Provide materials and resources necessary for all students to learn about their topics and become “experts.” 

    Note: It is important that the reading material assigned is at appropriate instructional levels (90–95% reading accuracy).
  8. Discuss the rules for reconvening into “home groups” and provide guidelines as each “expert” reports the information learned.
  9. Prepare a summary chart or graphic organizer for each “home group” as a guide for organizing the experts’ information report.
  10. Remind students that “home group” members are responsible to learn all content from one another.

Watch lesson (whole class, 5th grade)

Jennifer Dauphinais leads her fifth-grade students from Brennan Rogers Magnet School in New Haven, CT, through a jigsaw protocol. In a jigsaw protocol small groups of students become experts in one section or text and hear oral summaries of the others. The protocol allows students to synthesize across texts and gain new understandings from their classmates about the topic as a whole. (EL Education)

Watch lesson (whole class, 2nd grade)

Go inside Cathy Doyle’s second grade classroom in Evanston, Illinois to observe her students use the jigsaw strategy to understand the topic of gardening more deeply and share what they have learned. Joanne Meier, our research director, introduces the strategy and talks about the importance of advanced planning and organization to make this strategy really effective.

Collect resources

Lesson Plan: American Folklore, a Jigsaw Character Study (opens in a new window) (grades 3-6). Groups of students read and discuss American folklore stories, each group reading a different story. Using a jigsaw strategy, the groups compare character traits and main plot points of the stories. A diverse selection of American folk tales is used for this lesson, which is adaptable to any text set. (ReadWriteThink)

Learn how to use the jigsaw strategy across different content areas, including author studies, writing, and math. See example › (opens in a new window)

Learn how one teacher used jigsaw to help her students develop their own definition of a fairy tale, and how her students responded to the self-directed activity. See example › (opens in a new window)

Visit the Jigsaw Classroom, a site dedicated to teaching teachers how to use jigsaw to “reduce racial conflict among school children, promote better learning, improve student motivation, and increase enjoyment of the learning experience.” It also covers how teachers can facilitate the strategy with several different types of learners. See example › (opens in a new window)

Differentiate instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Give students experience with small group learning skills before participating in the jigsaw strategy.
  • Have students fill out a graphic organizer in the “home group” to gather all the information presented by each “expert.”
  • “Home groups” can present results to the entire class, or they may participate in some assessment activity.
  • Circulate to ensure that groups are on task and managing their work well; ask groups to stop and think about how they are checking for everyone’s understanding and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard; and
  • Monitor the comprehension of the group members by asking questions and rephrasing information until it is clear that all group members understand the points.

See the research that supports this strategy

Aronson, E. (2000-2008). Jigsaw Classroom: Overview of the technique (opens in a new window).

Aronson, E., & Goode, E. (1980). Training teachers to implement jigsaw learning: A manual for teachers. In S. Sharan, P. Hare, C. Webb, and R. Hertz-Lazarowitz (Eds.), Cooperation in Education (pp. 47-81). Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press.

Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (1997). The jigsaw classroom: Building cooperation in the classroom (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Clarke, J. (1994). Pieces of the puzzle: The jigsaw method. In S. Sharan (Ed.), Handbook of cooperative learning methods. Westport CT: Greenwood Press.

Colorín Colorado. (2007). Cooperative Learning Strategies (opens in a new window).

Crone, T. S., & Portillo, M. C. (2013). Jigsaw variations and attitudes about learning and the self in cognitive psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3), 246–251. (opens in a new window)

Hattie, J. (2017). 256 influences related to achievement. Visible Learning (opens in a new window)

Law, Y.-K. (2011). The effects of cooperative learning on enhancing Hong Kong fifth graders’ achievement goals, autonomous motivation and reading proficiency. Journal of Research in Reading, 34(4), 402–425. (opens in a new window)

Moreno, R. (2009). Constructing knowledge with an agent-based instructional program: A comparison of cooperative and individual meaning making. Learning and Instruction, 19(5), 433–444. (opens in a new window)

Moskowitz, J. M., Malvin, J. H., Schaeffer, G. A., & Schaps, E. (1985). Evaluation of jigsaw, a cooperative learning technique. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 10(2), 104–112. (opens in a new window)

Slavin, R. E. (1980). Cooperative learning in teams: State of the art. Educational Psychologist, 15, 93-111.

Slavin, R. E. (1995). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Tierney, R. (1995) Reading Strategies and Practices. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Stanczak, A., Darnon, C., Robert, A., Demolliens, M., Sanrey, C., Bressoux, P., Huguet, P., Buchs, C., Butera, F., & PROFAN Consortium. (2022). Do jigsaw classrooms improve learning outcomes? Five experiments and an internal meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(6), 1461-1476.

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Background Knowledge, Classroom Management, Common Core Standards, Comprehension