Jigsaw Conversations

I have a lot of difficultly setting up authentic, engaging interpersonal conversational activities. Even when distance learning isn’t an issue, these are the activities that require a lot of scaffolding, hand-holding, monitoring, and support, not to mention creativity. I’ve talked about ideas for keeping novice students in the target language here, and ideas for interpersonal interaction during distance learning here, but I was inspired by a recent Cult of Pedagogy podcast episode to use the jigsaw method for conversation prompts.

If you aren’t familiar with the jigsaw method, you can read more about it here, but the basic premise is the students group up to teach themselves and each other chunks of knowledge in “expert” groups and “learning” groups. In their first group, they become “experts” in one chunk of knowledge. After they become “experts” on that one topic, they split into “learning” groups that contain one person from each “expert” group. Then, each student presents the information they learned in their “expert” group to their “learning” group, and by the end of it, all students have some knowledge on all topics.

I’ve used the jigsaw method in the past with much success when covering broad topics like “Why We Study Spanish,” which you can read more about here. It has NEVER occurred to me, however, to try this structure with regular conversation practice, but it’s pretty brilliant, even for Novice Low students, and especially for distance learning.

The design is pretty straight forward. To start, you have a simple group of questions for every student in the class. I picked the questions, “¿Cómo te llamas?” “¿Qué te gusta hacer?” and “¿Qué no te gusta hacer?” In your “expert” groups, students will interview three of their classmates and write down their names, likes, and dislikes on a sheet of paper. This gets them practice in direct conversation (te gusta/me gusta). Then, they split into learning groups and share the information they learned with their “learning” groups, which gives them more practice with talking about their classmates (le gusta). That simple. By the end, every student has a list of every classmate’s name, like, and dislike. The whole time they are able to stay in Spanish, and the whole time they are asking authentic questions about one another and about other people in the class. There are many reasons I love this activity, but here are a few:

  • It helps to build community, both through group cooperation, and through students building connections over the content of their answers (in this example, what they like to do).
  • It’s much easier to monitor small groups than pairs, which is a help to you, ESPECIALLY for distance learning, because you have fewer break out rooms to pop in and out of.
  • While it does require a bit more set-up beforehand in terms of organizing students into expert groups and learning groups, you can be very deliberate about which students you want to group together, and you get a chance to mix them up a couple of times.
  • Jigsaw activities force students to own the knowledge in their expert groups. They are the only ones able to share with their learning groups, so there’s no sitting in the back checking out of what’s going on.

In general, I love jigsaw activities, but I never used them a lot in Spanish class because I always thought they lended themselves better to social studies or science classes, where you have to cover broad swaths of knowledge. But using the structure for interpersonal practice is such a great idea and can be easily scaled up or scaled down for whatever language unit you’re working with.

If you’d like to see an example of how I set up this activity, you can check out my “¿Qué te gusta hacer?” conversation practice on TPT here. In the preview of that file, you can look and see how I set up an organizational sheet that makes it really easy to assign “expert” groups and “learning” groups quickly.

Have you ever used the jigsaw method for conversation practice? How did it go? Would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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