Home > Teaching > Jigsaw Teaching: More discussion, less lecture

Jigsaw Teaching: More discussion, less lecture


You are a new teacher in your class material is vast and the readings are many. You need a way to make sure all the material is covered while avoiding lecture and encouraging students to work together. Here is a technique: jigsaw, which allows you to accomplish all of these objectives in an interesting and exciting manner.

Imagine you have a classroom of 16 students with four readings and four primary topics. Imagine each reading would take the students 30 minutes to read and consider. They come to class with two or three comments for clarification or discussion. It would be asking a lot to have each student read all four readings and conduct the level of analysis that you want to do inside the classroom. Chances are no student will do all of the work.

It would be very difficult in a two-hour classroom session to listen to the detailed work that each student might have performed. Nothing will turn a student off more than having completed all that reading and then not get a chance to discuss their insights in the classroom. The jigsaw technique is designed to avoid those problems and encourage students to take active participation in their own education.

Here is the idea:

1. On the day before the class organize your 16 students into four groups of four.

2. Assign each group before one of the readings with a set of discussion questions that you want them to develop a group answer on in the class the next day.

3. They will be responsible for reaching consensus or agreeing to disagree in the first half-hour of the class. It’s good if you have a whiteboard or butcher paper charts for them to record their small group discussion points.

4. At the end of the first 30 minutes each group has posted their notes on a whiteboard and have elected a spokesperson to present a 5 min summary of their discussions to the rest of the class. Therefore, in the first hour of class all four readings have been discussed at least in their own groups. The students have been engaged in for interesting conversations and they’ve had practice talking in a small group and to the group at large.

5. In the second hour the class gets to vote on which of the four discussion areas they want to pursue first.

6. Your job is the teacher now is simply to moderate the discussion and ensure that all four topic areas have an opportunity to be explored. You will reserve the last 10 minutes of class in order to provide a wrap up and provide some additional context for the students and the knowledge they have just created.

7. You have a set of teaching notes that identify the crucial points for each group so you can ensure the important material is addressed wither by the students or in your summary. You have a summary handout that is an excellent takeaway to ensure they have a set of crucial notes for further review and reference.

I have used this technique extensively in a variety of classes and with many different student demographics and discovered that it is a real winner here in the quality of discussion is enormous and students are willing to do their reading since they know they will have a chance to talk about it. They will also feel a responsibility to do the reading in order to share their work with others heard students will read for their friends as a motivation when they might not read just for themselves.

Give this technique a try and see if it works for you!

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