The Jigsaw Group technique is one that I use a lot to ensure that students work efficiently with each other on research projects and report back with their findings in a creative way. There are three ways in which I use the technique most often.
Method 1: Each group researches the same question in the same way
The simplest way of organising ‘jigsaw’ groups is to divide the class into teams, then to give each group the same task, divided between the team members in the same way. For example, each group might be researching the impact of World War Two on the Home Front, and each of the four members in each team looks at this from one angle: economic, political, social and military. Each student researches their area alone for a certain period, then the groups are ‘jigsawed’ by each person moving to sit with other people in the class who have researched the same theme. After exchanging findings in their ‘expert’ groups, students return to their original ‘home’ groups and teach each other about what they have learned, in the following manner:
This method is
Method 2: Each group researches the same question in a different way
A slightly more sophisticated approach is to provide each group with the same broad question, and to give each member within it the same angle to look at, but to give each team a different focus point. For example, the class might be investigating “What are the most common causes of war?“. Within each team, different students could be required to research military, social, economic and political causes. However, the crucial difference is that each team will consider a different war altogether. In this way, the ‘expert group’ phase can be much more engaging in terms of spotting comparisons and contrasts and thinking about how best to present these to the ‘home’ groups later on.
Method 3: Each student in the class researches something totally different
Another way of using Jigsaw Groups is as a way of getting students exchanging their ideas with as many people as efficiently as possible. This method involves creating groups, breaking them up after a few minutes, and then creating new groups with different members. It creates a sense of urgency to the discussion phase and gets the students moving around the room a bit too.
- Start by deciding how many groups you want to have. Base this around the number of people you have in the class to ensure groups are the same size (e.g. six groups of four students in a class of 24). If this isn’t quite possible, pair certain students together for the sake of this exercise.
- Then allocate each student to a particular group (e.g. 1-5). To avoid arguments you can use the ClassTools Random Name Picker.
- Once students are sat in their groups, give each student a fresh number to signify the order in which they will be speaking (e.g. 1 = first, 2 = second, 3 = third).
- Explain that each person has to speak within a strict time limit (I project the ClassTools MultTimer on the board for this).
- Start the timer and let the discussion proceed. It helps at this stage for each student to have a clear focus to ensure they listen carefully (e.g. “At the end of the discussion be prepared to explain which one of the other speakers made the most convincing argument overall”).
- At the end of the discussion, it is time to ‘Jigsaw’ the groups. Give each student in the group a new number, which corresponds to their new group. Then tell the students to move to the spaces in the classroom set aside for their groups.
- Each group will now consist of a group of students who have not yet talked to each other. Return to step  for the second phase of the discussion.
My Year 9 students had each investigated a different ‘historical hero’ in the Historical Heroes Research Project outlined here. In class, the jigsaw group approach was used to get students explaining to the other members of their groups what was so heroic about the individuals they had researched. Prior to the exercise, I told students that their objective was firstly to persuade the members of their groups that their choice of character was indeed ‘heroic’. Their second objective though was to listen carefully to the other people in the groups they spoke within and to decide which one of these was the most ‘heroic’ overall. Thereafter they selected a range of characters to organise into a diamond 9 diagram.
Taking it further
The ‘Jigsaw Groups’ approach works most simply in the way described above. (home group, expert group, return to home group for feedback). However, it is possible to arrange things so that a third round of discussion can take place in fresh groups consisting of students who have not yet talked to each other already. To do this, adjust stage  in the instructions above so that instead of simply giving students a new number, give them not only a number, but also a letter, in this format:
Group 1: 1a, 2b, 3c, 4d, 5e
Group 2: 1b, 2c, 3d, 4e, 5a
Group 3: 1c, 2d, 3e, 4a, 5b
In this way, when the ‘Jigsaw’ phase takes place, all the students with the same number sit together as before. But at the end of this phase, another ‘Jigsaw’ phase can take place by asking all the people with the same letter to sit together.