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Using the Jigsaw Strategy to Teach Trends in the Periodic Table

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Teaching Strategies : Using the Jigsaw strategy to teach Trends in the Periodic Table

Student-Centered Learning

I'm always looking for new student-centered activities where my students can learn new concepts and I can easily sit back and watch them take the lead in their learning...without breaking a sweat.

Often with high school-aged students, we tend to fall into teacher-led instruction easily. We shy away from station work, and other active learning strategies because they can be quite time-consuming, and sometimes it is just easier to stand there and talk for an hour (at least for me it is).

One great strategy that I have come to love and which works well with younger and older students is the Jigsaw Strategy.

If you already know how the Jigsaw Strategy works you can skip to The Strategy in Action section to learn how it can be used to teach Trends in the Periodic Table.

What is the Jigsaw Strategy?

The Jigsaw strategy is Group work with a twist. It is a cooperative learning strategy first developed in the 1970s (Aronson et. al., 1978) where students are grouped together into Jigsaw teams and each team member is responsible for mastering a different chunk of the learning material, then teaching this content to the rest of the group.

How does the Jigsaw Strategy work?

Step 1: Break down your lesson content into subtopics

The best content for implementing the Jigsaw strategy are those with three to five natural divisions or subtopics. Of course, teachers can create their own demarcations as they see fit, however, I would recommend keeping to about 3 to 6 subtopics within a single content area for a lesson so that Jigsaw groups are not too large.

Step 2: Form Jigsaw teams

Students are grouped together into jigsaw teams. The number of students in each jigsaw team should be equal to the number of subtopics created in step one. So, if your content is broken down into four subtopics then each jigsaw team should have four members.

Jigsaw Teams are formed where team members are assigned a different chunk of content.

You should assign the same number of students to each Jigsaw team. The strategy will not work well if all groups do not have an equal number of students.

Step 3: Assign each team member a subtopic

Each member of a Jigsaw team should be assigned one of the subtopics from step one and that student will be responsible for teaching this chunk of the content to the other members of their Jigsaw Team.

If your students do not divide evenly, you can either:

  1. Reduce the number of subtopics or;

  2. Assign two students within a group the same subtopic which they will work on together.

Step 4: Students Assemble into Expert Groups

Students who have all been assigned the same subtopic will then gather into groups that are referred to as expert groups. Within expert groups, students will then be required to master their given subtopic.

Jigsaw strategy Teaching Strategies. Students in the expert groups conduct research on their assigned topic

What happens within Expert Groups?

Within expert groups students will:

  • Conduct research on their given subtopic (at this point it would be useful to provide students with structure in the form of a graphic organizer in order to guide their research)

  • Develop a plan to teach their subtopic back to their jigsaw team.

During this stage, members can also be asked to come up with two to three assessment questions related to their topic which will be submitted back to you before the beginning of step 5.

Step 5: Students Return to Jigsaw Teams

Once students have become "experts" they will return to their Jigsaw teams where each team member will take turns teaching the key content of their expert topic to the rest of their group members. During this time, students will take notes and ask all their relevant questions.

Teaching Strategy, Jigsaw Strategy. Memebers of the Jigsaw team teach each other the content.

Step 6: Follow-up session

The follow-up session is teacher lead. This is your opportunity to review the entire topic in its entirety supplementing the content and allowing for student discussion and questions in order to clarify any areas of difficulty.

Step 7: Perform an Assessment

Develop a quiz based on the assessment questions submitted by each expert group. The assessment can be conducted in two ways.

  1. Students can be assessed individually and receive just one score or;

  2. each Jigsaw team member can be assigned two grades: an individual grade and a team grade which is found by averaging the scores of all members of a Jigsaw team (Slavin, 1986).

Providing a team score introduces an element of competition among groups, which encourages students to work harder to at teaching their content to group members, it also encourages individual as well as group accountability.

The Strategy in Action: Teaching Trends in the Periodic Table

Now that you have a general idea of how the Jigsaw Strategy works, let's take a look at how it can be applied practically in the science classroom.

Step 1: Start with an Introductory Activity

Before diving straight into periodic trends I start off with a review of the periodic table. During this lesson we briefly review:

  • How the elements are arranged in the modern periodic table ;

  • The differences between groups and periods;

  • Then we discuss the similarities in the electronic configuration of elements in the same group and the same period.

It is also important to ensure that students have a good grasp of the following concepts:

  1. Atomic structure and electronic configuration of the elements

  2. The difference between chemical and physical properties

  3. The structure of different solids e.g. giant metallic, simple molecular, giant covalent, ionic crystals (optional...but it helps)

Step 2: Create Content Chunks: Use Representative Groups

The trends in the Periodic Table is one content area that lends itself well to the Jigsaw strategy. For this I focus on the following chunks of content:

  • Trends in Group I: The alkali metals

  • Trends in group VII: The halogens

  • Trends in period 3

I focus on only these three categories as it helps students understand:

  • the trends down a group of metals,

  • the trends down a group of non-metals

  • the trends across a period.

You may include the alkaline earth metals (Group I) as well as the noble gases (Group 0) if u plan on implementing this lesson in your classroom however, I have found that including both Group I and II as subtopics tends to be redundant also, there isn't enough content for Group 0 to create an effective expert group.

Step 3: Assemble Jigsaw Teams and Distribute Material

Because my content is broken down into three chunks, each Jigsaw team will have three group members (remember you can create larger groups by adding more subtopics).

I then hand every member of the Jigsaw team a general research organizer which provides an overview of the trends and allows students to see the content from a distance. This will be used when students are writing notes during Lesson day.

The members will then decide among themselves who will become an expert in Group I, Group VII, and Period 3. Each expert will then be given a specialized Expert Research organizer which will assist in guiding their research and keeping them focused on the content.

Within the Jigsaw teams, each member will then take some time to do some preliminary reading and research on their subtopic. I sometimes skip this step and allow students to move straight to the next step once they have decided on their specialized area and have become acquainted with their Jigsaw team.

Step 4: Inductive Learning Phase: Expert Teams Conduct Research

Experts move to expert team locations

For this research stage, students are allowed to consult textbooks and internet sources. I provide students with an expert folder containing support material for their research.

The expert folder contains data cards with the different physical and chemical properties for their subtopic, as well as knowledge cards. Using these resources students will discuss trends and provide explanations for these trends.

This is the discovery learning phase of the lesson.

Here students use inductive reasoning to determine why the atomic radii of Group I metals increases as you move down the group using a combination of the Data cards and the Knowledge cards.

At the end of this stage, each expert group will submit two short answer questions and one structured question for a whole class assessment. Individual members will also be required to submit confidential peer assessment forms based on each member's participation and contribution.

Step 5: Return to Jigsaw Teams (Lesson Day)

Use your discretion when allocating time to the research phase of this strategy based on how well your students work. Because I usually have everything planned out beforehand which saves me lots of time, my students usually only require only about two periods for the research phase.

During the next class period, experts will take turns teaching their lessons to the members of their jigsaw teams who will then record the information in their General Research Graphic Organizers.

I encourage my students to put together a PowerPoint/Google Slides™ presentation for lesson day which can be uploaded onto Google Classroom™, however, students can present their material in a number of different ways such as brochures and posters but an oral component is mandatory.

Step 6: Review and Assess

After all Jigsaw teams have delivered their lessons and compiled their notes, I conduct a follow-up whole class activity where we discuss learning outcomes, review the content and address any areas of difficulty.

This stage of the strategy should still be student lead. For example, if a student asks a question about Halogens, I allow an expert from the Halogens team to address the student's question before making my own contribution.

Once this is done students are given a short quiz based on the questions prepared by expert teams. I use the assessment method proposed by Slavin(1986), where students are given two grades, a group grade, and an individual grade.

Students are also assigned a constructed response question for homework to further test their understanding.

Get the FREE Checklist

Now that we have discussed fully the Jigsaw Strategy and how it can be implemented for teaching you are now ready to implement this cooperative learning strategy in your own classroom.

Download the checklist for implementing this strategy in your classroom.

Jigsaw Lesson Checklist
Download PDF • 637KB

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Aronson, E., Blaney, N., Stephen, C., Sikes, J., & Snapp, M. (1978). The Jigsaw classroom. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Silver, H. F., Strong, R. W., & Perini, M. J. (2007). The strategic teacher: Selecting the right research-based strategy for every lesson. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Slavin, R.E. (1995).Cooperative Learning: Theory, research and practice (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Slavin, R.E. (1986). Using Student-led team learning (3rd Ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Centre for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools


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