February 20, 2020

Jigsaw Learning In Physical Education

These are the show notes for my latest episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. Take a listen to the episode by using the player below or subscribe to the show in your favourite podcast app!

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Show Notes

One of the things I learned from hosting last year’s season of #pechat - which focused entirely on the Danielson Framework for Teacher Evaluation - was that we should always be working towards putting our students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

It can be tricky to design lessons and instruction that not only keeps students engaged in their learning but that really helps create a shift from teacher-centred experiences to student-centred ones. I know that this is something that I have struggled with in my teaching, especially in lessons and units that are very content-heavy in which I feel like I really need to be guiding my students through the learning step-by-step to ensure that it is all being properly introduced.

In those situations, I’ve found that the jigsaw method - a cooperative learning strategy that was first introduced to me by Ash Casey and Vicky Goodyear back in 2011 - can really go a long way in setting up a lesson structure in which I can remove myself from the equation a bit all while still having my students highly engaged and taking ownership of both their classmates’ learning as well as their own.

What is Jigsaw Learning?

Jigsaw learning is a cooperative learning strategy that was developed by Elliot Aronson in the early 1970s. The power of jigsaw is that it is designed to have every student play an active role in the learning process by requiring that each student become an expert in one piece of the overall learning goal. It is only by bringing their collective knowledge together that students can experience the full picture of the lesson’s learning.

Here’s how it works:

First of all, the teacher divides the class into 4-6 person groups. These original groupings can be referred to as the students’ home groups or jigsaw groups.

Next, each student within a jigsaw group is assigned a number from one to X - where X is the total amount of students in that group. A student’s number represents their expert group.

For example, let’s say the teacher divides the class into four groups of four students and assigns a pinnie colour to each group: red, blue, green, and yellow. Then, within each jigsaw group, the teacher numbers the students one to four. When the students are with the other students wearing the same colour pinkie as them, they are in their jigsaw groups. However, the teacher will later ask the students to group up with other students who have the same number as them. So all of the ones get together, all of the two, and so on and so forth. When students are grouped up with others who have the same number as them, they are in their expert groups. In this situation, each expert group would be composed of one player from the red team, one from blue, one from green, and one from yellow.

Ok, so now that we understand how the jigsaw group and expert groups work, let’s get into the content chunks.

Prior to the lesson, the teacher would have broken the lesson’s content into four smaller chunks. A chunk could be a skill, a concept, a tactic, or a task. What is really important that these chunks all be related to each other and to the lesson’s learning target.

After the teacher assigns each student to their jigsaw group, they will then invite students to get into their expert groups and assign one of the learning chunks to each expert group.

Students within an expert group are responsible for exploring the content chunk that was assigned to them as a group. They will have time to review it, try it, test it, take notes… whatever they need to do in order to feel confident that they have mastered the content (or at least learned it will well enough that they feel confident teaching it to others).

After a pre-determined amount of time, students return to their jigsaw groups. Once in those groups, each expert takes a turn teaching the learning chunk that they were assigned to the rest of their jigsaw teammates. This way, each jigsaw group gets to be introduced to all of the lesson’s chunks and each student gets to play an active role both in the learning of others and their own.

It all comes together, just like a jigsaw puzzle.

The Benefits of Jigsaw Learning

Aside from being really fun, the jigsaw method benefits students in a variety of ways.

First of all, students are directly engaged with the material, instead of passively having material presented to them. This helps create that shift from the lesson being teacher-centric to being student-centric and supports deeper learning on the students’ behalf.

As students learn content chunks in their expert groups, they get to practice self-teaching skills and other habits of mind that will serve them throughout their lifetime. One of the beautiful things that has emerged from my jigsaw lessons is seeing how every student approaches learning in their own way.

The peer-teaching aspect of jigsaw learning also holds students accountable to others. The weight of responsibility in knowing that you will need to know the content well enough to teach it to others goes a long way in helping students stay on-task and motivated as they learn in their expert groups.

What I love most about the jigsaw method is how its design provides every student with an opportunity to have their voice heard and to feel that they are essential contributors to the group. This not only supports cooperation and active learning but also supports a learning environment where everyone feels valued.

Jigsaw Learning in Physical Education: Parkour!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve used the jigsaw method in a variety of ways in my teaching. I also want to acknowledge that other physical educators have done a great job of sharing their experiences in jigsaw learning, so be sure to check out the “additional resources” section below for more examples of how jigsaw has been used in PE.

That said, I was really excited about how my recent parkour lesson went so I figured I would spend some time focusing on that here.

My grade three students are currently in their parkour unit. The grade-level outcome that they are working towards is: “Performs a sequence of locomotor skills, transitioning from one skill to another smoothly and without hesitation”.

After unpacking that outcome, the unit-level learning goal I created for this unit’s Learning Roadmap was the following: “I can perform a challenging parkour sequence that flows”.

To breathe some parkour into this unit, I focused on helping my students master two sets of skills: precisions jumps and parkour vaults.

For the vaults, I decided to focus on four different types: safety vaults, lazy vaults, speed vaults, and kong vaults.

Here’s where things got tricky: because of the schedule, I couldn’t spend four lessons on parkour vaults. I wanted to try to have them all introduced in one lesson and then let my students decide which ones they would eventually like to include in their parkour sequences. Also, I didn’t want to have a super teacher-heavy lesson in which I break down one vault at a time, have my students practice it, and then move onto the next vault. I wanted to make this lesson as engaging as possible all while helping my students dive deep into their understanding of the vault skills. So, I decided to jigsaw the lesson. Here’s how it looked:

Parkour Lesson Breakdown: Vaults

First off, there was a lot of work that happened behind the scenes. My first task was to break the lesson’s learning into smaller chunks. For this lesson, I decided I wanted to have four content chunks with each chunk built around one of the four vaults my students were to explore.

The first thing I did was prep the learning materials for the expert groups. In this case, I decided to flip the lesson by creating a set of four video stations that would introduce the different vaults. Each expert group would be assigned to one station where they would get to work towards mastering that station’s vault.

Here’s how I prepped those video stations:

During the research I did on parkour when I was prepping for the unit, I came across a YouTube Chanel called Ronnie Street Stunts. On the channel, I found a video titled “10 Parkour Vaults for Beginners”.

As I went through the video to select the four vaults I felt were most appropriate for my grade three students, I took note of the start and end times for each vault’s segment in the video.

I then downloaded the video using a YouTube downloader web app that I don’t want to link to here because a) you’re not supposed to do that and b) it’s super sketchy (you have to click and close like eight popups to eventually get to the download screen).

With the video downloaded to my desktop, I then used QuickTime to trim the video using the start and end times I had written down earlier. I repeated this process until I had four short videos, each one containing only the segment of the vault I wanted my students to explore.

I then uploaded those videos to a folder in my school Google Drive and set their sharing settings to “Anyone With The Link Can View”. Once those sharing settings were set up, I copied each video’s URL to my clipboard (I use an app called Paste which lets me save, rename, and access tons of items in my clipboard).

With the copied URLs, I then went over to The QR Code Generator to create a QR code that linked to each video.

Jumping into Keynote, I made a quick card template that I could place at each expert station and that made it simple to know which code was which. I pasted the appropriate QR code into each card template, printed them, and cut them out so that they were good to go for the stations.

Once I had set up the four vault stations in my gym, I then placed the card template and an iPad on a bucket by the station so that they were ready and waiting for the when the expert groups showed up.

Speaking of the experts, I also made a resource for them! To help guide the students’ self-teaching while they were in their expert groups and to help give them confidence when they got back to their jigsaw groups, I made an Expert Card resource that would be handed out to each student.

The Expert Cards were pretty simple as they contained only four sections: a place for the student’s name, a box for notes on safety considerations when practicing the vault they were focused on, a section that invited them to identify up to five essential keys to performing the vault, and a final section for any other notes they may want to jot down while learning in their expert groups.

For peer-teaching to be effective, especially in younger grades, we need to help students build both their capacity and confidence as teachers. The goal of the Expert Card was really just to help kids feel like they knew what to say once they got back to their jigsaw groups.

With those resources prepped and ready to go, I then had to design both my jigsaw groups and expert groups. Personally, I find that being intentional during this step of the planning process really goes a long way in setting students up for success when using the jigsaw method.

For example, I wanted my jigsaw groups to be varied in terms of the overall skill levels of the students within them. Having that student who usually struggles with new skills in class suddenly have more expertise than their peers goes a long way in creating a positive experience for them in class. That being said, not all vaults are created equal: of the four vaults I selected, there was definitely different degrees of difficulty between them. As I decided on my expert groups, I purposefully planned to assign students to vaults that I felt that they would be comfortable with. For example, I didn’t place students who had been having a harder time with our parkour skills in the expert group that was going to explore the most difficult of the four vaults: the kong vault.

I’m sure that there are pros and cons to every student grouping method in jigsaw learning scenarios, but this is what I felt would work best for my students and it really did.

Ok, with all of the planning completed, we were ready for our lesson! I started the lesson off with a round of On The Lines, Off The Lines as our warm-up activity. I like this game in this unit as it encourages lots of movement jumps (we focused on precision jumping from line to line), leaps, and moving with flow.

Following our warmup, we went over the What, Why, How for the lesson so that students were clear on our learning targets for the day. From there, I introduced how jigsaw learning would work in the day’s lesson, broke the students off into their jigsaw groups, and distributed the Expert Cards and pencils.

Once all of this was set up, I invited the students to break off into their expert groups and told them that they would have 15 minutes to see their vault in action, review its technique, reflect on safety considerations, and practice with their expert group teammates.

As the experts practiced their skills, I walked around the gym and worked with one group at a time. The hardest part here was remembering that the students were driving this lesson and to not intervene to the point where I was taking over their learning. So, I provided feedback, answered some questions, and did my best to let the kids grapple with their content chunks.

After the time was up, students got back into their jigsaw groups. I then informed them that they would each take a turn playing the role of the expert and would have five minutes to a) break down their vault for their teammates and b) provide their teammates with feedback as they practiced their vault. After the five minutes were up, the next student in their group got to step up and teach and this whole process repeated itself until all of the students had a turn to teach their vault.

As the students practiced in their jigsaw groups, I added a few more obstacles and vaults in the gym. Once all of the vaults had been introduced, the class had some free running time in which they got to practice moving through all of the obstacles while using the different vaults they had explored that day.


Using the jigsaw method in this lesson had every student engaged in their learning and accountable for their classmates’ learning. I was blown away at the quality of their instruction and their deeper understanding of the vault techniques. Not only was there an increase in cooperation in the lesson, but I was also freed up to work with any students who may have been having a hard time while still feeling confident that learning targets were being met.

As you can tell, jigsaw learning can require a lot more work upfront on the teacher’s behalf. However, that work is definitely worth the investment in time and effort as it helps create an effective, meaningful, and fun learning experience for students.

So that’s it for this episode's show notes! I hope you enjoyed this episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. If you did, I’d so appreciate your taking the time to go rate the show in Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts from. Recommending the show to a colleague also goes a long way in terms of helping this thing grow.

Remember to take advantage of the SHOWTIME2020 promo code before February 29th when you sign up for my #PhysEdU course on standards-based instructional design. If you thought this episode was informative, there’s a whole lot more learning waiting for you there.

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Once again, my name is Joey Feith from ThePhysicalEducator.com. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast!

Happy Teaching!

Additional Resources


Blog Posts

Cooperative Learning in #PhysEd: Putting the pieces together (by Jo Bailey)

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com.
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