How to Use the Paired Jigsaw Activity to Build Communication and Analysis Skills

The paired jigsaw activity is an active learning strategy you can use to increase engagement, encourage collaboration, and assess learning. If you want to know how well your students know something, challenge them to teach it to someone else!

With the paired jigsaw activity, students become accountable for ensuring information is accurate and communicated effectively. This strategy flips the focus from the teacher to student and places your learners in the role of being the “expert."

This encourages them to think about the course material in a different way. It also builds organization and communication skills as they consider how to structure material in a way others can understand it.

Here’s how the Paired Jigsaw works:

First, divide the whole group of students in half, into Group A and Group B, for example.  Give group A one article and give Group B a different article. The articles can be opposite points of view about a topic, or you may decide to choose two completely different articles that introduce different concepts related to the course content.

Give students time to read the article they have been assigned during class.  Then, ask them to discuss the important points with at least one other student in their group who read the same article.

Once everyone has had time to read and discuss the article with others who read the same article, divide the whole class into pairs.  Each pair should have a representative from group A and group B.

Then, ask each partner to “teach” their article to their peer based on what they read and what was discussed.  So, the student in Group A will teach the student in Group B what they learned, and vice versa.

Conclude by asking all students to come back together as a large group to debrief, compare the articles, and reinforce important concepts.  

Why does the paired jigsaw strategy work in the active learning classroom?

The process of preparing information to teach something to someone is a complex exercise in application, synthesis, and evaluation.  In this activity, you are involving your students in the process by putting them into the role of the instructor.

They can’t just read the headlines or skim the article.  They have to process what they read at a higher level so they can explain it in a way that makes sense to someone else. Students must be able to organize the information, make sense of it, and prepare for potential questions asked by someone else.

This process has been called the Protégé Effect and students demonstrate a deeper level of understanding, a higher level of accuracy in the knowledge gained, and a recognition that learning sometimes means making mistakes as you go through a process of trial and error (Paul, 2011).  

3 Tips for Implementing the Paired Jigsaw Activity:

Tip #1: Start with a "low stakes" reading assignment.

Realize that the act of teaching or presenting information to someone else can produce fear or anxiety (similar to the fears people have about public speaking!).

Support your students through this process by starting with a “low stakes” reading that is easier for them to analyze. Then you can move towards more complex issues or topics as they build confidence in their teaching and communication skills.

Tip #2: Assign reading prior to class and hold students accountable.

If you have a complex topic or reading, consider assigning it prior to class so students have more time to process the information.  If you assign a pre-reading, give students something to DO with the reading so they are held accountable for completing it prior to class.

Examples: Ask them to post the main idea of the article to the discussion board. Or, ask them to bring three quiz questions about the article.  You can pass these questions among the students who read the same article so they can test their comprehension before teaching it to their peer.

Tip #3: Combine jigsaw strategy with formative assessment. 

Consider combining this strategy with a formative assessment strategy such as “Clearest Point, Muddiest Point” (Angelo and Cross, 1993) so students can alert you to information they still feel uncertain about.

Collect this feedback in case you need to follow up with additional resources or information. Giving students a chance to learn from each other is powerful, but if they are paired with a partner who is confused, unprepared, or uncertain, then it can lead to increased anxiety and frustration. You can address this concern by giving students the chance to ask more questions.

With all flipped classroom strategies, remember to think about your role in this type of learning environment. As the instructor, your job is now to be a facilitator.

Be the coach or the guide. Roam around the room and listen in on the discussions. Add more information only if you think it's needed to help clarify confusion or add more depth to the analysis. Pose challenging questions to push students to advance their thinking and prepare for potential questions from their peer when they are teaching. Present different points of view. Encourage pairs to speak up when you bring the whole class back together.

With the Paired Jigsaw strategy, your students engage in self-directed learning and self-assessment as they determine not only WHAT to teach, but HOW to communicate it.

Indeed, if you want to know how well your students know something, ask them to teach it!

Resources and Recommended Reading:

Angelo, T. and Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook. 2nd ed. Jossey-Bass. Paul, A. M. (2011).

The protege effect. Time. Retrieved from

Perkins, D. V., & Saris, R. N. (2001). A "Jigsaw Classroom" technique for undergraduate statistics courses. Teaching of Psychology. pp. 111–113.

The Jigsaw Classroom.