March 11, 2024

The Jigsaw Method: Transforming Students into Experts to Enhance Their Learning

Have you ever heard of the Jigsaw method? This cooperative learning strategy promotes collaboration and is a way to help students understand the material and retain information.

Just like a jigsaw puzzle is a collection of pieces that come together to create a complete picture, students are individual pieces that will come together to form a complete understanding of the lesson.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I use this teaching strategy in various ways in my classroom. This method can easily be adapted to any discipline as it is mostly used to teach subcategories within a specific lesson.

What is the Jigsaw method?

The Jigsaw method was developed by social psychologist Elliot Aronson in the early 1970s to help students overcome learning gaps. Today, teachers have been using this strategy from elementary school to higher education classroom settings. The method is designed to encourage students to work together to achieve common goals.

To be more specific, this strategy allows small groups (expert groups) to develop expertise on a subcategory of a larger topic. Once each expert group is done researching their idea or working together on their assigned task, each individual student within the group is then responsible for teaching it to another group of students (base groups).

How does it work?

In simple terms, the Jigsaw method has 2 main phases:

  1. the expert groups phase
  2. the base groups phase

The teacher forms small groups that will become experts on a topic, and then rearranges the groups so each student from these expert groups will teach their part to another group of students.

4 clusters of 4 puzzle pieces are labeled as “Expert groups”. Each cluster presents 4 identical puzzle pieces. The first cluster is identified as 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, the second cluster with 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, the third cluster with 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, and the fourth cluster with 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D. Under the expert group, on a row labeled “Base groups”, the 4 clusters have been rearranged to show 4 identical clusters, each containing 4 puzzle pieces. The first cluster is identified as 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, the second cluster with 1B, 2B, 3B, 4B, the third cluster with 1C, 2C, 3C, 4C, and the fourth cluster with 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D.

The different groups of students during the 2 main phases of the Jigsaw method.

Step 1: Creating expert groups

First, you need to divide the students into groups of 4 or 5. The number of teams should be based on the number of subcategories that fit into the lesson content. For example, if you have 6 subcategories, you should then have 6 teams. These teams will be known as expert groups.

To facilitate the next part of the activity, you can assign a number to each group and a different letter to each student within a group. For instance, the 1st expert group formed by 4 students would be assigned 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D.

You can adapt the number of students per team according to the number of students in your group. For instance, you might have to create a few expert groups of 3 or 5 students, as long as you assign the letters as equally as possible among the students.

Depending on the number of teams, I personally like to use a deck of playing cards for this step. I hand out a card to each student, where each number on the card refers to their expert group, and each suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades) refers to their base groups.

You can also divide the teams yourself to promote differentiation in the classroom. Teams can be designed according to students’ strengths and weaknesses, or their interests.

Step 2: Assigning and researching subtopics

Each expert group will be assigned a subcategory or a subtopic that is part of the larger topic of your whole lesson. For example, if you are studying a collection of poems, each expert team would be assigned 1 poem in the collection, while your whole lesson will be on the collection as a whole.

According to the tasks assigned, students collaboratively research, discuss, or develop their subtopic with their expert group, allowing the students enough time to become experts on it.

As a teacher, you can monitor the activity by walking around the classroom, assisting the students and making sure they are on the right track. Remind them that they will have to explain individually their subtopic to other students later on in the lesson.

Step 3: Making base groups (Jigsaw groups)

Once each expert group is done with their task and each individual feels confident enough to explain their material, reconfigure them into base groups. To do so, many strategies can be used. If you have previously assigned a letter (A, B, C, D) to each participant in each expert group, then ask all the As to get together to form their base group (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A), and so on. If you have used playing cards, ask the students to regroup according to the suit on their card.

Once in their base groups, the students now become teachers. All expert students take turns teaching their specialty to their base groups so that each group learns about every topic. It is important to provide a template to each student where they can take notes.

Again, during that time, the teacher facilitates learning by monitoring the activity, making sure everyone gets the necessary information. You can encourage students to ask questions and rephrase what they have just learned from another student.

Step 4: Wrap-up activity

To make sure that all students gain an understanding of the entire content, not just their expert piece of the puzzle, you might want to conclude the class with a reinvestment activity covering the whole lesson. This could be done as homework or as a wrap-up activity in class.

Benefits of the Jigsaw method

The benefits of using the Jigsaw method in your classroom are numerous. First, this method goes hand in hand with the social brain concept that stipulates students’ learning is accelerated when the social brain is engaged. Since the students have a social purpose in completing the task (teaching it to another group), they retain the information better and thus learn faster.

In addition, the Jigsaw method is similar in many ways to the learning stations approach. These 2 teaching strategies significantly increase student engagement by offering a student-centered approach in which the students are actively involved in their learning process.

This method also brings other benefits for the students by:

  • empowering them in their learning, building a sense of responsibility for their learning
  • encouraging active learning and participation
  • fostering human skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving
  • promoting collaboration and teamwork
  • creating an inclusive learning environment

Ready to give it a try?

Would you like to implement this method in your classroom? Here are a few ideas to get you started according to the courses you teach. They can easily be adapted across various disciplines.

Disciplines In expert groups, students… In base groups, students…
Social Science …focus on a specific historical event during a given period. …gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire historical period.
…find solutions to a current societal issue. … discuss and debate on the best solutions.
Philosophy …research a specific philosophical school of thought. …debate, compare and contrast the different philosophical theories.
Literature …work on a specific section of an essay or a report. …share their finding and bring their knowledge together to write the complete essay or report.
…focus on a literary work in a given literary genre. …discuss the common themes and literary elements of this genre.
Mathematics …focus on a specific problem-solving strategy. …discuss the effectiveness of each strategy and find solutions.
…work on 1 specific step of a multi-step problem. …share their knowledge to solve the whole problem together.
Science …work on a specific biological system. …engage in discussions on how the different biological systems are interconnected.
…focus on a specific environmental issue or sustainability concept. …discuss their findings and come up with action plans.
…conduct the same experiment with different parameters. … compare their results and come up with a conclusion.
Psychology …research a specific psychological concept. …compare and contrast the implications of the different psychological concepts.

Whether the Jigsaw method is used for sharing different solutions to a common problem or for dividing up the tasks within a larger topic, offering students the chance to teach information enhances their learning experience.

If you are considering or have already implemented this strategy in your classroom, feel free to share your comments below!


Jigsaw: developing community and disseminating knowledge. (2017, June 17). Facing History & Ourselves.

Merrill, S. (2019, June 3). How-To: The Jigsaw Method, revisited. Edutopia.

Tomaswick, L. (2017). Active Learning – Jigsaw. Kent State University Center for Teaching and Learning.

About the author

Véronique Drolet

After teaching English as a second language and English Language Arts at the secondary level for 16 years, Véronique Drolet has recently joined the college network. She is currently an English teacher at Cégep Limoilou. In addition, her strong interest in languages led her to complete a certificate in translation. Passionate about the pedagogical integration of digital technology, she is now part of the Eductive team as a technopedagogic editor.

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