Active Learning with the Jigsaw Classroom

Why do students hate in-class group projects? The group participants are always the same.  There’s the bossypants who dominates the discussion, the slacker who does next to nothing, the one too shy to speak up, and the one who gets frustrated and just does all the work to make sure it’s done right. (I plead guilty on that last one!)  

The Puzzle of Team-Based Learning

As we move to team-based learning in health sciences education, we have to find better methods of getting students excited about active learning. 

Enter the Jigsaw Classroom. I’ve used this technique in a number of my courses, and have been amazed at the quality and enthusiasm it produces in the participants. On top of that, its adaptability to many different learning outcomes makes it a technique all educators should have in their toolbox.

The Jigsaw Classroom was pioneered by Dr. Elliot Aronson in the 1970s. Since its inception, Dr. Aronson has used it in higher education institutions and has spearheaded research on its effectiveness. The method is effective even if used for a small portion of class time, is easy to implement, and best of all, students and instructors find it enjoyable.

Simple Implementation

I deployed the Jigsaw method in an addiction medicine course. The lecture topic of the day was twelve-step programs. I selected five different twelve-step programs for students to research.  Then, I divided students into groups of five, and assigned each group with a particular subset of information. 

We can call these the “research” groups:

  • Group 1 was tasked with finding the target “audience” for the programs.
  • Group 2 researched the founders and any famous members of each program.  
  • Group 3 found information about member numbers in the US and internationally.
  • Group 4 analyzed each program’s website and social media to get a sense of how they “market” themselves.
  • Group 5 researched published literature on sobriety success rates of each program.

Learners in each group documented their findings using a collaborative note-taking app, ensuring every single student had access and input to the product of their assigned group. This is where the magic of the Jigsaw method comes in.  

Bring Students Together by Jumbling the Jigsaw Pieces

Once the research groups had time to document their findings, students were jumbled into new groups. The “report” groups were formed so that one person from each research group was represented. Then, learners in the report groups presented their findings about their assigned topics. Each student in the group was an expert on his/her topic, and then learned about four more aspects of twelve-step programs that he/she didn’t have to research. And, since each research group took collaborative notes, the experts worked from a shared playbook.

Griffin, L. H. (2015, November). Puzzling It Out: Teaching Marketable Skills in History Courses with the Jigsaw Technique: Perspectives on History: AHA. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from

This method minimizes those problematic tropes: the shy guy, the loudmouth, the slacker. Since each student becomes an expert, each student has something to contribute. 

The shy guy has his turn without being interrupted. The loudmouth can’t dominate the whole discussion, since she knows nothing about the other students’ work. The slacker is inclined to contribute, since he will be the only expert once the groups are scrambled. And, finally, no one student can possibly do the work for her peers. 

Each student creates content; each student consumes knowledge.

This method worked so well in addiction medicine, I adapted it to several other courses. Students told me they enjoyed and appreciated the interactivity as well as the chance to teach their peers. As a bonus, it required minimal preparation on my part; I only had to facilitate the discussions.  

The Jigsaw Classroom is an incredibly simple method to implement for active learning. It requires minimal preparation time for the instructor, and employs student-led discussions. Most important for schools moving to team-based learning, it moves the instructor from  “sage on the stage,” to the “guide on the side.”

Best practice tips for using Leo with the jigsaw classroom:
  1. Use Leo to create jigsaw groups manually or randomly. This can be done prior to class or on the fly during class!
  2. Provide groups in Leo with specific materials intended for only their group, reducing confusion and maximizing the jigsaw technique.