Jigsaw Learning

Do you want to bring a new type of learning to your course, but not have to devise a new way of marking it? Then Jigsaw cooperative learning might be just your thing.

The basic idea behind jigsaw learning is that students learn material better if they have to teach others about it. However, the implementation of this idea is slightly more complicated. Ideally, you would divide the class into groups of 4-8 people, which will be called 'home groups'. Then, each student in a 'home group' is given a number (the number of groups is dictated by the topics that will be covered), and told to join with the other students with this same number in the class. These groups are called 'jigsaw groups'. Each 'jigsaw group' is assigned a topic, which they will collaborate together to learn. Then, once they understand their topic, the students return to their 'home groups' to explain the topic to the other students.i (i.e. you might be a #2 in your 'home group' and then you join all the other #2's from different 'home groups' to become a 'jigsaw group' where you explore the topic – and then come back and teach it to your 'home group'. All the other members will be teaching their home group their respective information).

It sounds a little complicated in the explanation, but it's really not that difficult to put into practice. There are some significant advantages to using this style of learning, particularly if you have a lot of content to cover.

  • The jigsaw groups help each other to understand difficult concepts, which make them easier to explain to the home groups.ii
  • Because students have to teach each other, they develop a mastery over the subject that they are responsible for.iii
  • You don‟t have to change your grading or evaluation style to compensate for a change in learning, as you may have to do if you implemented other types of learning strategies.
  • This helps students avoid confusion on related topics. They will be less likely to mix up which dates/processes/equation/etc go with which event/effect/data/etc.iv
  • Students gain valuable skills in group work and cooperation, without the daunting task of you needing to mark group work,v and without completion against each other. Groups can work on different topics, or aspects of the same topic, awarding you flexibility when creating a course outline.vi

As with all styles of learning, there are some points one must be conscious of if it is to succeed. Absent and academically weak students can pose a problem in this style of learning.vii Sometimes students can skip important information or misunderstand something. This can be mitigated by having a question sheet for them to answer, or by giving a brief overview at the end of each class.viii

If you wish to learn more about how to use jigsaw cooperative learning in your classes, contact the Centre for Teaching and Learning at ctl@ualberta.ca


  1. Colosi, J. C. And Zales, C. R. (1998). Jigsaw Cooperative Learning Improves Biology Lab Classes. BioScience, 48(2), 118-124.
  2. Perkins, D. V. And Saris, R. N. (2001). A “Jigsaw Classrom” Technique for Undergraduate Statistics Courses. Teaching of Psychology, 28(2), 111-113.
  3. Krauss, J. (1999). A Jigsaw Puzzle Approach to Learning History in Introductory Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 26(4), 279-280.
  4. Doymus, K. (2008). Teaching Chemical Bonding Through Jigsaw Cooperative Learning. Research in Science and Technological Education, 26(1), 47-57.
iColosi & Zales, 1998, pg 119.
ii Doymus, 2008, pg 54-55.
iiiPerkins & Saris, 2001, pg 111.
ivColosi & Zales, 1998, pg 122.
vPerkins & Saris, 2001, pg 111.
viDoymus, 2008, pg 48.
viiColosi & Zales, 1998, pg 123.
viiiColosi & Zales, 1998, pg 123.
-Rebecca Schaeffer, June 2011