The Jigsaw Classroom: Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Academic Performance

The Jigsaw Classroom: Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Academic Performance

On Williams’ “Improving Race Relations in Higher Education: The Jigsaw Classroom as a Missing Piece to the Puzzle”

Laya Bommireddy

The Importance of Classroom Interventions to Reduce Prejudice

From primary to higher education, minority students face various interpersonal and structural obstacles that can make their environments uncomfortable and incompatible with learning. For students, discrimination manifests in interactions between peers, which informs school or campus climates and can impact academic performance, and how minority students view themselves and each other. Williams (2004) notes that in addition to reducing prejudice and discrimination among students, the jigsaw classroom instructional method is associated with increased self-esteem and student liking for school, decreased competition, and increased academic achievement for minority youth. Thus, the jigsaw method is a powerful tool for promoting classroom equity.  

What is the Jigsaw Classroom?

The jigsaw classroom, developed by Elliot Aronson (1978),  is a cooperative learning technique that can be implemented in k-12 and higher education institutions to improve intergroup relations. A fundamental precept of this technique is that classroom competition can inhibit student success. Therefore,  classroom environments promoting equality can help each student to thrive. In the jigsaw classroom, students are separated into groups of five or six students that contain in-and-out-group members. Each jigsaw group in the classroom will be assigned the same set of content.

  • Each group member is assigned a subtopic that they are responsible for learning and teaching to the rest of the group.
  •  After learning their material, each member meets with their counterparts (i.e., students responsible for the same portion of the material) from other groups.   
  • Once in these new “expert groups,” students present their understanding of content and obtain feedback from their counterparts. 
  • Feedback includes how to best present their material to their jigsaw groups. 
  • After meeting with expert groups, each student holds expertise regarding a different part of the material they share with the original jigsaw group. 
  • In sharing with their jigsaw group, each student imparts knowledge on their 
  • assigned content. In doing so, all students use their jigsaw pieces of knowledge to form a complete understanding of the assignment at hand.

Key Processes and Conditions of the Jigsaw Classroom

At a fundamental level, the jigsaw classroom’s effectiveness is that students with a strong understanding of the material can assist those with a weaker understanding to ensure they can present to their jigsaw group. In this way, all students are considered essential to their group. Effective cognitive processes of a jigsaw classroom are cooperation, interdependence, common in-group identity, and re-categorization of the out-group to a new in-group. 

Cooperation is one of the four original components of contact theory in that Allport (1954) contended that group members must have equal status and work collaboratively towards a common goal. The jigsaw classroom promotes equal status, cooperation, and interdependence as each student is perceived and treated as an expert in their content. In other words, the group’s success is contingent on the work they achieve together. To that end, individual success is at odds with the group’s common goal, making collaboration inevitable. This component of intergroup contact theory is first achieved in the collaboration required of students when they share information and get feedback on their thoughts from expert group members. Interdependence is again established in jigsaw groups when students depend on their peers to teach them the other parts of the material they are not knowledgeable about.  

The cooperation and interdependence of jigsaw students create a common in-group identity whereby each student is treated as an integral group member responsible for the group’s success. Creating a common identity reduces prejudice as individuals’ cognitive portrayals of “us” and “them” are likely to develop into a more inclusive “we.” 


Allport, G. (1954). The nature of prejudice. 25th-anniversary edition. New York: Basic Books

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

Williams, D. (2004). Improving race relations in higher education: The Jigsaw Classroom as a missing piece to the puzzle. Urban Education, 39(3), 316-344. 10.1177/0042085904263063

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