Foster Cooperative Adult Learning with the Jigsaw Method

Header - Guhlin - Jigsaw Method

Miguel Guhlin, Director of Professional Development for TCEA, walks us through the Jigsaw Method and how, in an adult learning context, it can increase collaboration and rapid learning among everyone involved.


n an audience filled with instructional coaches, curriculum directors, and technology advocates, I asked, "Did you know that the Jigsaw Method has an effect size of 1.20? This makes it one of the most powerful ways to introduce new skills and knowledge to students of all ages."

Then, I paused for a moment to look at my audience of adult learners before saying, "That effect size is about 3x the growth of a normal academic year for K-12 students." Eyebrows shot up, and suddenly, I had everyone's attention.

Below I'll dive into this powerful high-effect size instructional strategy, and a few steps for executing it yourself.

Why jigsaw?

We can all agree that not all instructional strategies work best at all times in learning or for every learner. Although this may be a revelation to some, deep down, we all know it's true. However, the Jigsaw Method is an exception to this notion.

In a jigsaw activity, learners are reading new information, discussing it with others who have read the same thing to extend their understanding.Then, moving to new groups where they teach peers about what they read and learn new information from group members." —John Hattie

When done right, the three-step "jigsaw movement" can help students pack three years of academic growth into one year. This strategy helps learners:

  • Engage with the material they have to learn, increasing the depth of understanding
  • Practice self-teaching and peer-teaching, which ensures deeper-level comprehension
  • Improve in social-emotional learning, autonomy, competence, and intrinsic motivation
  • Model active learning, cooperation, and valuing of all students' contributions

However, as fun as the Jigsaw Method is with K-12 students, it's even more so with adult learners. Why? Because their differing experiences give them background knowledge that augments their insights in the discussion.

Getting started

1) Pick a topic

First, learners start in their "home" groups to discuss a topic that's new to them and add the topic to their "jigsaw organizer." Here's a copy of the organizer that we use:

Guhlin - Jigsaw 1

Click the image for the full version of the organizer that you can download.

Then, each group member ventures to another group to discuss one aspect of the main topic. The goal of the home group is to divide up topics, then empower individuals to go to a more focused study group. That focused group is the expert group, where deeper analysis will take place.

2) Discuss and analyze

Second, students analyze materials and discuss them with their expert group. After a brief discussion, learners return to their home group to discuss their findings, gather insights, and note them.

Guhlin - Jigsaw 2

This jigsaw organizer provides an easy framework to walk through the Home Group > Expert Group > Home Group workflow, but anything can work!

Pro tip: Include a quiz or performance task (and a reward!) at the end of this step to check for understanding!

3) Reflect

In the final step, each group member goes back to their expert group. There, they share the insights from their respective home groups, ask clarifying questions, and grow.

Guhlin - Jigsaw 3

Try to encourage everyone to share something in the Reflection discussion.

Again, their goal is to identify and explore any new insights while engaging in a final discussion or reflection activity that encourages each participant to share their thoughts.

A real-life example

At a recent TCEA convention workshop of over eighty participants—consisting of ICs, curriculum directors, and technology professionals—I ran a problem-based learning activity as a quick way to set up the learners with a scenario (an example of which you can view here!).

The scenario sets up goal-oriented learning to solve a problem that empowers adult learners throughout the process. Using a "jigsaw organizer" to guide discussion, adults were encouraged to work together to share their burgeoning knowledge about four core areas—high-effect size instructional strategies, coaching models, strategic technology integration, and edtech frameworks.

After the jigsaw activity was complete, each participant gave their home group a short presentation on their area to share their new understanding of how digital tools enhance evidence-based instructional strategies.

Final note

The Jigsaw Method is not only easy to implement but is also effective. Although it's a frequent activity in my face-to-face workshops, it can also be used in remote settings through breakout rooms. So when you're planning your next learning session for adults or students, be sure to keep the jigsaw method top-of-mind!

P.S. TCEA offers a self-paced online course to get Jigsaw Method certified. 😀

About our Guest Blogger

Miguel Guhlin currently serves as a Director of Professional Development for TCEA in Austin, Texas. Prior, he has served as the director of technology for a few organizations.

Miguel earned his Master's degree in Bicultural/Bilingual Studies with an ESL Concentration and his B.A. at the University of Texas, San Antonio; achieved his ISTE Certified Educator status—the first Texan and Panamanian to do so—in September 2018. He is also the ISTE Making IT Happen Award recipient, a Google Certified Innovator, Administrator, Trainer, and a Microsoft Certified Master Trainer and Expert. In recent work, he has developed online certification courses relied on by over 13,000 global participants.

Miguel is an accomplished presenter and prolific writer, so be sure to check out his work at Around the Corner and TechNotes.

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