Online Jigsaw Reading

By Eunjeong Ahn

What is Jigsaw Reading?
Jigsaw reading is a great strategy that has been widely used in language classes. This is a cooperative learning strategy in which each student of a "home" group masters one aspect of a topic. Each student is assigned to a different aspect of a topic in their home group and then they move to their "expert" group to meet with members from other home groups who are assigned to the same aspect. For example, one expert group of students specialize in the definition of global warming while another expert group studies the major causes of global warming. In the expert group, they study the material together and prepare to share the information when they return to their "home" group. Back in their home group, students teach each other what they studied, and they can integrate all of their knowledge into one complete jigsaw puzzle, which is a cohesive text. 

Possible Lesson Objectives of Jigsaw Reading
Students will be able to learn new vocabulary in a text (e.g., an academic journal, story, news article, etc.), discuss the main idea of a paragraph and summarize it, report the summary with the main idea and some details, and integrate all the pieces of information into one main idea.

How Can We Do This in an Online Environment?
It’s already known that a jigsaw reading activity works well in a face-to-face classroom setting. However, I also demonstrated this activity with my colleagues last semester to see how it would work in a Zoom online class session. We had 25 students who are in the intermediate range of level, and they worked with an article on COVID-19 (its origin, symptoms, clinical therapies, and prevention). We found out that it worked pretty well on Zoom when using the Breakout Room function.

First, the instructor selects an article or text of a proper length in accordance with their students’ level of proficiency. Additionally, the instructor needs to think about what each student should learn in their expert group and prepare worksheets for students to work on while they are in the expert group breakout room.

Then, the instructor divides the article into several parts, equal to the number of expert groups. The number of members in each group and the number of groups depends on the size of the class and the length of the text you used. It would be ideal for the instructor to have all students assigned to home and expert groups beforehand and have the list of their assignments ready.

And then, the instructor moves students to their home group by manually assigning all to each group according to the assignment list. Each student in their home group is assigned a number (according to the number of expert groups). Then, students move to their expert group for discussion. It would be helpful for the instructor to set a time limit for how long students will spend in their expert group when assigning them to their expert group. While they are in their expert group breakout room, the instructor can move around to visit each room and check on how students are doing.
Finally, after mastering the materials given to each expert group, the students return to their home groups. They take turns reporting what they have discussed and teach it to their home group members so that they can integrate all the information from the expert group’s work into one complete piece of the article. Finally, as a debriefing, the teacher can have the students present their work to the class.
Suitable Topics for the Jigsaw Reading Activity
Any topic can be used for the jigsaw reading activity. Scientific articles would work well to discuss some phases of scientific phenomena for advanced learners, and fairy tales would be also good for beginner level learners to discuss story lines.

Lesson Modifications and Suggestions
If the class is a multi-level class with an uneven mixture of students (both high- and low-level students), the teacher may assign a particular student to a certain paragraph. This depends on the students’ respective levels in the class.

Eunjeong Ahn is a previous ESL Writing Course TA in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
ITBE Link Fall 2020 - Fall 2020