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Black History Month: "Jigsaw Puzzle" Activity

About this Daily Classroom Special
This Black History Month activity is brought to you by Kathryn DeCola, teacher at Holmes Middle School (VA) and former Teachers Network web mentor.


During February, many teachers plan activities related to Black History Month which highlight the contributions made to our uniquely American culture by African-Americans in science and technology, politics, sports, literature, and other creative arts. One problem my teaching partners and I faced was the lack of classroom materials that could be used for research. We found many reproducible short biographies but did not have the time or funds to make individual copies of each page for each student. To solve this problem we developed a jigsaw that allowed us to introduce about 16 African-American men and women to our students over the course of the month. One day each week was designated our jigsaw day. Using this strategy, the students practiced working in small groups, taking notes, and giving oral presentations.

The Activity

This activity is easily adapted to different curriculum areas where a great deal of information needs to be communicated in a short period of time and/or where materials are limited or difficult for some students to understand. I like a jigsaw because it keeps all students actively involved all of the time. Depending on the age and ability of your students this activity takes about 45-60 minutes.

A jigsaw is a two level small group strategy.

  1. Divide the class into small groups (four students per group works well) of mixed ability. These become the teaching group.
  2. Give each person in this group a short biography of a different person. They will come back to this group and teach the others about their person.
  3. Now regroup so that all students who have the same person are together. These are larger groups and if you have a very large class you may want to divide each of these groups into two smaller ones, keeping the group size about four instead of seven or eight. The key is to keep these mixed ability too. This is the expert group and together they read, discuss, fill out the note taking worksheet and then practice what they will tell about their person. Allow 15- 20 minutes for this part of the activity.
  4. Return to the original group of four where each student has the opportunity to teach the others what he/she learned. Students may use a worksheet for note taking. Allow 15-20 minutes for this part.
  5. One culminating activity I've used is to have students complete a crossword puzzle or word search which contains the names of people studied over the course of the month.
  6. On a piece of paper folded into 16 sections students might draw a picture of a symbol to represent each person and write a sentence about his/her contribution.

Sites to Visit

Sites you may want your students to visit include (Be sure to check for appropriateness for your students age):


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