Planning Successful Jigsaw Activities

Jigsaw activities are a useful classroom activity that promotes individual student accountability as well as the opportunity for peer sharing and character education practice. Jigsawing occurs when students form one group, become experts together on a particular topic, and then move to a second group to compile and synthesize learning from each expert group.

I am a believer in the benefits of jigsaw activities but, to be honest, the logistics of the activity can be daunting and have prevented me from using it as often as I could. (I can remember how nervous I was the night before I attempted a jigsaw in an observation--I was worried that my second "switch" wasn't going to go according to plan.) We all have our weaknesses! :)

I believe I have found a way to simplify jigsawing using colored paper clip tokens and table signs. I hope it helps others use this strategy more often in their classrooms.


I have 5 tables of 6 students and a classroom capacity of 30 students. Each of the 5 tables became an expert in a subtopic area related to Westward Expansion:

Table  1: Trails West
Table  2: Texas Revolution 
Table  3: Mexican-American War 
Table  4: Gold Rush 
Table  5: Descriptive words to describe ALL 4 sections/Westward Expansion

Students needed to bring their terms to their next group in order to create a concept map. When the first groups were ready to move they received a set of paper clips (see picture). Each student selected a paper clip (blue, green, yellow, pink, red, or white). The paper clip color corresponded to a table number and the students needed to move to their new table and continue their work. (The 6th group moved to an annex room--I could have had them work on the floor or taped their concept map to a white board, as well). 

I had three absent students one hour and this  would have normally presented a problem for me. This new method helped me to prepare ahead, however. I kindly asked the groups with missing students to write an extra set of terms for the missing student. I put a leftover colored paper clip on the terms and simply gave it to the group that was missing a student!

Upon reflection, this method worked really well for me and my students--I will definitely use it in the future.  

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