The jigsaw technique ensures workshop participants engage with new material/content (typically involving multiple themes or sub-topics), as well as with one another. It is a cooperative approach to learn new information through multiple phases: individual learning, teaching and collaborative problem-solving.


During this exercise, workshop participants are first divided into jigsaw groups, and each group member has time to individually engage with new information focused on one part (i.e. sub-topic) of a broader issue. They then divide into new ‘expert groups’, that allows them to compare their understanding with others that have been allocated the same sub-topic. Finally, they return to their jigsaw groups, and teach their sub-topic to their group members, based on what they have learned. The final phase involves creating a ‘full picture’ (or ‘jigsaw puzzle’) of the broader theme, based on their own understanding, but also the perspectives of others.




Minimum 9 participants (3 participant/group x 3 groups)

Note: A maximum of 36 participants is recommended (6 participants/group x 6 groups), although larger groups can be accommodated by allowing 2 or more group members, per jigsaw group, to work together on a single sub-topic.


Minimum 30 minutes | F2F & Online

Note: The exercise can take longer, depending on the number of sub-topics being discussed, and on what level of detail the participants are expected to engage with the material/themes.




The facilitator has to select an overarching topic.

  • Then, they need to decide on sub-topics, and allocate a resource for each one. (They can divide a reading on the overall topic into segments, or they can prepare separate readings/resources on the sub-topics). Note: There should typically be 3-6 participants in each jigsaw group. (3 for small groups, and up to 6 for larger ones). The number of sub-topics should be roughly the same as the number of jigsaw groups.
  • Participants should be pre-allocated to jigsaw groups.
  • Online break-out rooms should be set up for each jigsaw and expert group.
  • The resources should be prepared (ready to be emailed to participants / uploaded in an online folder linked to each breakout room).
  • The participants will need any form of note-taking devices / note pads for the expert group discussions.
  • A schedule should be prepared, with time allocation to explain the exercise and complete all the phases (see below). If the schedule is shared with the participants, it should include clear timeslots and hyperlinks to the breakout rooms that have already been set up, to help participants navigate.

Step 1

The exercise starts by the workshop facilitator briefly introducing the topic, and listing the sub-topics.


Step 2

The facilitator explains the exercise, as well as the time allocation for each phase:

Phase 1: Participants will be divided into jigsaw groups – each with their own online breakout room. In the breakout rooms, each group member has to choose 1 sub-topic. For groups that have 1-2 members more than the number of topics, they can decide on teams of 2-3 to focus on the same topic. They will have a few minutes to individually review the resource (e.g. readings uploaded in the breakout rooms, or posted in the chats) and take individual notes.


 Phase 2: Participants will now navigate to (or be automatically allocated to) their ‘expert group’ breakout rooms, where everyone with the same sub-topic will convene. They will take turns to share their notes (a summary of their understanding of the topic) with the rest of the group. They should take note of the other’s perspectives on the same topic, and based on these inputs, add to their own notes.


Phase 3: Everyone returns to their jigsaw groups’ original breakout rooms. They each have a few minutes to explain their sub-topic to their group members, based on what they’ve learned from their expert groups.

Step 3

To manage the transitions between phases, there can be a timekeeper nominated per group to remind participants when they need to navigate to their next breakout room session, or an automatic time limit can be set per each breakout room session. (This is possible on some videoconferencing platforms). Another alternative is to share an exercise programme document with the participants at the start of the exercise, with timeslots indicated for each phase, along with hyperlinks to each jigsaw/expert breakout room.

Step 4

At the end of the exercise, everyone returns back to the main, online meeting space– i.e. that includes the full workshop participant group. The facilitator allows participants (group representatives or volunteers) to share/post their general feedback. They can comment on what they have learned from the exercise, and their new understanding of the overall topic.

  • The exercise should be well-structured and time allocation should be adhered to, to ensure that the discussions stay focused and that everyone has a chance to participate in group discussions.
  • Sub-topics should not involve too much / highly complex material, as the participants should be able to easily work through it and grasp it during Phase 1. It should, however, also be interesting and relevant to the participants, to allow for rich discussions during Phase 2.

The jigsaw technique was originally developed by Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist, in the early 1970s.

This exercise summary draws from the practical experience of the database contributors, as well as the following resources:


It is possible to shorten the exercise by requiring the participants engage with their allocated sub-topics (i.e. Phase 1) before the workshop. The facilitator should, in that case, share the sub-topics with individual jigsaw group members ahead of time, so that they can work through the material. It is also key to stress to participants that their pre-reading will form the basis of an exercise that will require them sharing a short summary / key ‘take-aways’ with others. It is essential that participants take accountability for their pre-workshop preparation, for this approach to work.

« Methods