Group Work in City’s Learning Spaces: the jigsaw classroom

Looking for creative teaching activities? Encourage students to work collaboratively and motivate each others’ learning, to clarify their understanding of course content and reflect on different peer perspectives. Take a look at the group work suggestions in our series of blog posts. We recommend booking City’s new Learning Spaces to run these activities.


City students working together
City students working together

The jigsaw classroom is a cooperative learning technique for organising classroom activities that ensures that students are dependent on each other in order to succeed. Classes are broken up into groups, assignments are broken up into pieces, and groups assemble the constituent parts to complete the whole picture.

It was developed in 1971 by psychologist Dr. Eliot Aronson following the challenges of desegregating the American education system in the 1950s and 60s (Honeychurch, 2012). The technique was devised as a means of reducing distrust and hostility between students by ensuring reliance upon others for academic success.


This is a technique where students effectively teach each other, so it is highly learner-centred. With each group member playing an essential part in the academic activity, their dependency on each other encourages engagement, listening, teamwork and empathy for others. The jigsaw technique can also promote a deeper understanding of the subject material than passive listening to a lecture or simple discussions.


Firstly, the class will need to be divided into equivalent-sized groups. For example, a class of 25 could be divided into five groups of five. Students within each team would then be individually assigned numbers (e.g. #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5).

Basic steps, based on five groups of five, are as follows (adapted from Ledlow 1996):

  1. Divide the subject material into five equivalent parts
  2. Assign subtopics to each team member
  3. Develop learning activities or tasks around the material
  4. Reassign students into ‘expert groups’ (e.g. all #1s together) and issue instructions to these groups
  5. Following ‘expert group’ activity, students return to original teams and teach rest of their team about the subtopic
  6. Present a team synthesis activity to bring the information from all subtopics together (e.g. a team essay, group problem solving)
  7. Assess learning (individual or group) and provide activity closure gives an example of how this would work with a history class learning about World War II. In each group, one member is looking at Hitler’s rise to power in pre-war Germany with the other members of their ‘expert group’, another at the role played by Britain in the war, another about the Soviet Union’s contribution, a fourth member about Japan’s entry into the war, and the final member researching the development of the atom bomb. The ‘expert groups’ collectively prepare a report on their subtopic, followed by members returning to their original groups to present the report.

This technique, however, could be used for teaching any subject. Honeychurch (2012) describes using the method with first year undergraduate philosophy tutorials at the University of Glasgow, for cohorts of 450 people. Koppes (2002) deploys the technique at Eastern Kentucky University in teaching industrial and organisational psychology (see linked PDF in References for fuller details of how she both uses and develops the technique further).


Collaboration software (e.g. Google Docs, wikis), presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi)


  • Node chairs in AG24B
    Node chairs in AG24B

    Ensure chairs are organised for group work

  • Plenty of space is helpful
  • Try shuffling groups after students become experts on a particular topic
  • Impress on students the need for preparation (this technique demands it)
  • With larger groups you might need more than one expert group for each subtopic
  • Don’t make expert groups too large
  • When students return to home teams, it’s useful for each team to teach the subtopics in the same order – this allows for individuals to cover more than one group teach in the case of absences
  • Try this with video, where ‘expert groups’ take notes on different parts or watch for different things

Online suggestion

Adobe Connect or Skype (now free for up to 10 people) can be used for groups in video chats, Moodle or a blog for hosting the activities, Google Docs, blogs or wikis for collaboration software.

Suitable room/s

Room type Building Room Capacity Notes
Movable tables and chairs College A109 35
A214 30
AG08 40
University B307B/C 70
BLG08 32
BM02 25
BM03 25
Tait C340 25 – 50 25 exam room style, 50 lecture style
Social Sciences D104 30 – 60 30 exam room style, 60 lecture style
Drysdale E212 30 – 60 30 exam room style, 60 lecture style
Node chairs College A112 16
AG24B 25 SHS only
Social Sciences D222 22
Computer room College AG24A 30 With round tables and movable seating; SHS has 2-week booking priority

For more ideas on group work activities in flexible learning spaces visit


Aronson, E (2011). Jigsaw Classroom website. [Accessed 24/07/14]. Available from

Honeychurch, S (2012). Taking Forward the Jigsaw Classroom: the Development and Implementation of a Method of Collaborative Learning for First Year Philosophy Tutorials. Discourse Volume 11 Number 2 Summer 2012. [Accessed 24/07/14]. Available from

Koppes, L (2002). Using the Jigsaw Classroom to Teach the History of I-O Psychology and Related Topics. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Vol. 39 Number 4 April 2002. [PDF, accessed 29/07/14]. Available from

Ledlow, S (1996). Using Jigsaw in the College Classroom. [Accessed 24/07/14]. Available from

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