Using jigsaws to facilitate small-group discussions

“Jigsaw” discussions are an efficient and student-centered way to get your class familiar with many different texts or materials. By dividing students into groups that each work with different content, then having individuals from each group teach that content to their peers, you can encourage students to build on each others’ ideas and find patterns throughout their course content. In this video, Tina Grotzer describes how she uses jigsaws to facilitate in-depth discussion in her classroom. 


Tina Grotzer, Principal Research Scientist in Education

Student Group



Harvard Graduate School of Education


Applying Cognitive Science to Teaching and Learning

Group Size

35 students

  • Jigsaws can work for a variety of materials and media. They can be especially helpful for covering multiple in-depth works, such as research articles, all at once. However, they can also work well for covering literature, film, book chapters, and other content you want students to engage with.
  • Consider having students meet in same-content groups to review their material before breaking out into jigsaw groups. That way, students can work together to make sure they fully understand their material and are ready to teach it.
  • Jigsaws can also be a helpful way to review work that was assigned for homework or covered earlier in the course to make sure everyone has the same level of understanding.
  • Perkins and Saris found that undergraduate students in a statistics course reported increased understanding and better use of class time using a jigsaw activity compared to working individually (2001).
  • Research on collaborative learning broadly suggests a beneficial link to diversity in the classroom (Cabrera et al., 2002).
  1. The Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College provides a helpful overview of the jigsaw technique as well as specific examples for how to incorporate jigsaws into science classrooms.
  2. Penn State’s Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence provides an overview of what the jigsaw technique looks like when it spans multiple class sessions.