A few weeks ago, my own kids were begging me all week to take them to the library. They love the endless rows of books as much as I do, and we had a few minutes on a Saturday to go check out books. Now, my public library is just awesome– there is no other word. I am always pleasantly surprised at how busy and active the library is– not the library of my childhood that was dark and cramped and slightly smelly. This library is cheery and bubbly and bustling with activity, especially the children’s section. It feels like Meg Ryan is going to pop out at any minute with a children’s book recommendation and a homeade cookie. The library is not just busy with readers, but with kids on computers, building Legos, and playing board games. That Saturday, what jumped out at me was the table set up with a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. I’m going to share my reasons why I think Jigsaw puzzles belong in classrooms and some practical ideas for how to use them.
As I followed my kids around the library while they picked out books (I made my selection from the featured table when we walked in- “The Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker) , the wheels in my head were turning. I kept thinking about this idea of an ongoing Jigsaw Puzzle that wouldn’t be solved in one sitting and how that would look in the classroom. I thought about my Gifted Learners who often finish quickly and need something to keep them engaged. Then I thought about my students with disabilities in reading who often struggle in my class but thrive with hands-on manipulative activities. Then I thought about my students who struggle socially and need a reason to talk to other kids– and my teacher lightbulb came on. What if I set up a puzzle in the room to be accessed by ALL kids in ALL classes? An ongoing activity that students could return to and contribute to one piece at a time!
When I started Googling “puzzles in the classroom” Most of what I discovered was specific to one-time use puzzles for lessons (design your own!), using them in the kindergarten or early elementary, or for indoor recess. But what about middle and high school and what about puzzles that were ongoing instead of for one sitting? Finally, I came across a fantastic post on We Are Teachers about Jigsaw puzzles in all classrooms, with some links to some really interesting puzzle companies that I didn’t know about that specialize in content-based puzzles (think: the Periodic Table or State Capitals, for example).
After inspiration from that post, here are 4 ideas that I came up with for when and how to use a class puzzle:
- Early finishers who need something else to do
I teach two 8th grade Accelerated Language Arts classes and two 8th grade Coteaching Language Arts classes. (This is a DREAM schedule, btw!) Both of these classes often have students who will finish significantly earlier than others and need something to do. Often, they resort to technology, and I don’t always have a better option for them. Sometimes I can give them a student that needs help or they help me, but not always. My new plan is to turn their attention to the jigsaw puzzle. It can stay out on a back table and early finishers can work on it as they get time. This is perfect for all achievement levels. Even students who would sometimes struggle with a task like this will benefit from work done by other students to open up opportunities for them to have successes that they might not get on their own.
- As a brain break station in the station rotation
I use stations (centers) in my Language Arts classes ALL. THE. TIME. Pretty much every text we read goes like this: Step 1: read independently and annotate; Step 2: collaborative stations for close reading; Step 3: Individual assessment. Repeat with a new text. The stations that I use are pretty rigorous. This is how I really push my students to think deeply about the texts that we read. I could use a puzzle station as a brain break station, which they definitely need. Sometimes I build in a “catch-up station” or “homework station” as a break, but now I think I will add this, too. It would give my kinesthetic learners an opportunity to do something to keep their neurons firing and to be ready for the next close reading station.
- As a reward or time out
The way I see it, some quiet puzzle time could be very motivating for some of my students who would love to do something besides reading and writing in my class, and this might be a motivator for them to get work done in class to get some puzzle time. OR, sometimes, kids may need a time-out. Not an out of the room time out, but a cool off time out to refocus. Working on a puzzle could be that opportunity!
- For teambuilding and social coaching
Teambuilding and social skills are critical to develop those “soft skills” that we encourage for our students to be ready for the workplace. Some students are born leaders and they just get it. Others, my own child included, need a little more direct instruction in social interactions and on being part of a team. A class puzzle is the perfect opportunity to address those skills. Interactions over something that is non-content based, but still collaborative could provide those coachable moments to encourage healthy socializing. It also may be a disaster for those students, but would still provide a coachable moment!
So, where to start? I first ransacked my kids’ puzzles and games to my basement to see what old jigsaw puzzles they wouldn’t mind parting with. I found that while I had some, they weren’t very inviting. You may have some better ones collecting dust, just waiting to be solved. Even ones with missing pieces would give you a starting point. I bet thrift stores and yard sales would be awesome places to pick some up, too. However, I ended up on Amazon (of course) and ordered this colorful and delicious looking doughnut puzzle for my middle schoolers. Because, what middle school kid doesn’t like doughnuts? (By the way, doughnuts or donuts? I write both.) I also liked this brand because it came with a poster of the image that I can hang up for the kids to see.
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On Monday, I am setting up my very first Jigsaw Puzzle Table in my classroom. I am excited for the possibilities! I even made this resource (FREE on TpT!) to hang over the table. I want to be sure that my students know what I expect of them before I roll it out. I don’t think I will make a big deal out of it, just set it out and see what happens! Leave a comment if you have ever used a class jigsaw puzzle or other game that was ongoing in the classroom and let me know how it went!
*UPDATE: It took my kids 2.5 days to finish my 300 piece puzzle. A few students who are normally disengaged and defiant had the opportunity to sit at the puzzle table for a set period of time and work the puzzle WHILE they did classwork. These students did more classwork in 3 class periods than they have all year. I am in shock. They are begging for more puzzles and I can’t find them fast enough!