Strategy Guide

Using the Jigsaw Cooperative Learning Technique

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Strategy Guide Series
Differentiating Instruction

About this Strategy Guide

In this strategy guide, you will learn how to organize students and texts to allow for learning that meets the diverse needs of students but keeps student groups flexible.


Research Basis

The research that originally gave credibility to the jigsaw approach—creating heterogeneous groups of students, diving them into new groups to become expert on a topic, and then returning them to their home groups—touted its value as a means of creating positive interdependence in the classroom and improving students’ attitudes toward school and each other (92).

The structure it provides also lends itself naturally to differentiating instruction.  Because learning experiences can be differentiated by content based on student readiness and interests, the jigsaw technique allows students to learn from text that is matched to their interests and independent reading level while also learning from their peers, who have worked with text that is appropriate for them.

Aronson, Elliot, and Shelley Patnoe.  The Jigsaw Classroom: Building Cooperation in the Classroom.  2nd ed.  New York: Longman, 1997.


Strategy in Practice

  • As with any learning process with independence and interdependence as the goals, effective use of the jigsaw technique begins with teacher modeling.  Explain to students that they will be working in different cooperative groups to learn content: a jigsaw or home group, made up of students who have read different texts, and expert group that all reads the same text.
  • Then, with a piece of text appropriate for your group of students, read and think-aloud as if you are working in an expert group, focusing on thought processes such as:
    • How can I put these ideas into my own words?
    • What connections do I see between this material and things we’ve already learned, or from my own life?
    • How will I tell the members of my jigsaw, or home, group about this material?
  • To prepare students for returning to their home, or jigsaw, group, demonstrate thinking they can use to monitor their performance there:
    • Is what I’m saying helping the others learn the material?
    • Are people understanding what I’m saying and making connections between their reading and mine?
  • Based on your knowledge of the students in your classroom, organize a set of texts that students will read in their expert groups and report on to their home groups.  You may wish to find texts that complement each other, but offer varying challenges in difficulty.  It may be useful to assemble a text set that offers contrasting views on the same topic.  Or, your learning goals may lead you to select text that offer information on various facets of a concept that will become clear only when students come together in their home groups after working with their expert groups (such as three books, each about one of the states of matter).
  • Organize students in their home or jigsaw groups and share with them the learning goal or guiding question for the lesson.  Remind them of the modeling they saw.
  • Re-organize students into their expert groups.  You may find it useful to use numbers for home groups and letters for expert groups (student 3-B for example, will read text B with a group of students and then report back to group 3, where a student has read text A, C, D, and E).  Students in the expert group should read the text and make sure everyone has a strong enough understanding to share with their home groups.  It may be a good idea for students to produce a written summary or short list of ideas they plan to take back.
  • Throughout the jigsaw process, circulate the room and observe the groups as they read and discuss.  When you notice difficulties, try to put the responsibility for finding a solution back on students to enhance the cooperative benefits of jigsawing.
  • Reconvene the home groups and ask students to share their expertise with one another.  Students should write about the way their expert knowledge was changed or enhanced by listening to their peers.


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