More active learning in World Economy: jigsaw session for the WTO

Having difficulties to present the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to your students in a World Economy module?

Try out a puzzle or jigsaw session!!! This active learning technique is easy to implement and generate high students’ involvement. It is true that it needs a bit of previous preparation but the effort is worthwhile. I usually organised the work in several phases in order to assure that students are prepared in advance and all the logistics run smoothly.

It would be useful to have some previous knowledge about the jigsaw technique and be familiar with other experiences of application. Therefore, it is easier to imagine the sequence of your own session, something I discovered to be especially useful when planning active learning lessons.

The Jigsaw classroom webpage defines it as “a research-based cooperative learning technique invented and developed in the early 1970s by Elliot Aronson and his students at the University of Texas and the University of California.” They provide some diagrams and clear explanations that make really easy to visualize the process. I would say that is a really powerful way to apply collaborative learning in the classroom. Truly, it is easier to use that explaining how to use it! Of course, there is a lot of academic research about its implementation and effects. You can consult, between many others, some of the references I give at the bottom.

Following some of the theoretical recommendations, but adapting them to my context, I have organised my design in three phases (Preparation, Performance and, Exploitation) with different planning necessities.

Initially, the Preparation Phase.  The week before of the set date (22nd of February 2016), I gave each student a number from one to five. Those numbers I gave to them had a meaning, as I prepared five bits of materials related to the World Trade Organization (WTO). With 45 students, nine of them were assigned with number 1, other nine with 2… and so on and so forth. The five readings and videos were uploaded to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and students were asked to prepare in advance only the packages with their assigned number. They were advised to come to class prepared, with some previous knowledge and, with physical resources to use in class. My task during that time was to arrange the big sheets of paper that will be displayed all over the class. Each sheet was identified by a number and some questions to answer about the materials related to that number.

Jigsaw in WTOThe 22nd of February, ready to perform the activity during my 90 minutes session, I displayed fifteen big sheets of paper all over the class and asked the students to join in groups of three members with the same number. Each group had to work in one of those posters. Many of them used post-it and notes to make it look more visual and also graphs and schemes from the previous material. Once all the groups have finished their poster (I limited the time that can be used for this), they reorganised the groups. They formed nine groups of five members, now all of them with different numbers. Each group walked around and looked at each poster while the “expert” in that topic explained what the poster is about to the others, even in the case that it is not its own poster. This is one of the main advantages of the puzzle method: students get knowledge not only from their topic but also from the others. Also, this approach gives them the opportunity to learn from their classmates’ performance and be aware of different qualities in this performance.

Clearly, some posters were much better than others. And it is precisely this aspect the one that oriented my Exploitation Phase. In a latter Tutorial session, I used those posters to discuss indicators of Posters quality, establishing criteria for assessment and practice discussion in English language. Do not forget this is a module that uses English as a Medium of Instruction with non-English native students based in CLIL approach (Content and Language Integrated Learning)!

TG con posters WTO_18may2016_1
Some students assesing the different posters in the Exploitation phase

TG con posters WTO_18may2016_3

Truthfully, in my design one of the main drawbacks is the research element. It was not one of my objectives that students do an extensive search of information about the WTO and go in depth of that topic. So, the learning outcomes of my session were mainly two, firstly, that students were able to synthetize different aspects of the WTO institution from a previously consulted material, and, secondly that they were able to communicate and share their expertise with the colleagues to produce a common product; in this case a poster. In addition, I had a teaching objective beyond the puzzle itself and it is exploiting the final product of the jigsaw in a successive session related with evaluating skills training.


Aronson, E. (1978). The jigsaw classroom. Sage.

Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (2011). Cooperation in the Classroom: The Jigsaw Method (3rd ed.). London: Pinter & Martin, Ltd.

Clarke, J. (1994). “Pieces of the puzzle: The Jigsaw Method” in S. Sharan: Handbook of cooperative Learning Methods, London: Paeger.

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