Could a Jigsaw based learning model be suitable to your session?

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Today I’m proud to welcome a new contributor officially to the coaching diaries. A trusted and close friend, a like minded thinker of the game and a hard working and dedicated coach, Mark Stacey will be adding his quality input to the blog and beyond from here on in. 

Enjoy Mark’s first piece below and Merry Christmas to you all!



The Jigsaw model is a form of cooperative learning and is argued to promote better learning, improve learner motivation, and increase enjoyment of learning. Elliot Aronson is credited with inventing and developing the jigsaw model of learning during the 1970s. As per the experiment and taken from the experiment site (note, not my steps), the steps for a jigsaw lesson were:


Divide students into 5- or 6-person jigsaw groups.

The groups should be diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, and ability.


Appoint one student from each group as the leader.

Initially, this person should be the most mature student in the group.


Divide the day’s lesson into 5-6 segments.

For example, if you want history students to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, you might divide a short biography of her into stand-alone segments on: (1) Her childhood, (2) Her family life with Franklin and their children, (3) Her life after Franklin contracted polio, (4) Her work in the White House as First Lady, and (5) Her life and work after Franklin’s death.


Assign each student to learn one segment.

Make sure students have direct access only to their own segment.


Give students time to read over their segment at least twice and become familiar with it.

There is no need for them to memorize it.


Form temporary “expert groups” by having one student from each jigsaw group join other students assigned to the same segment.

Give students in these expert groups time to discuss the main points of their segment and to rehearse the presentations they will make to their jigsaw group.


Bring the students back into their jigsaw groups.


Ask each student to present her or his segment to the group.

Encourage others in the group to ask questions for clarification.


Float from group to group, observing the process.

If any group is having trouble (e.g., a member is dominating or disruptive), make an appropriate intervention. Eventually, it’s best for the group leader to handle this task. Leaders can be trained by whispering an instruction on how to intervene, until the leader gets the hang of it.


At the end of the session, give a quiz on the material.

Students quickly come to realize that these sessions are not just fun and games but really count.

What may the jigsaw learning model look like if applied to football session?

Using the Whole-Part-Whole practice design, each player can be given a principle of play or problem question that they are in charge of formulating thoughts and coming up with a strategy or answer for. As an example ‘when to press / when to play forward’ or ‘role of first defender’. During the part-practice the team could break up into smaller groups based on the area of expertise for the session and team up with members of the other team(s) that have the same topic/problem. After the part practice the learner can then go back to their original team for the whole-practice and teach the other players what they have learned within the session, coming up with a strategy in relation to defence or attack.

Alternatively a coach could use a carousel training approach where an individual or small team has to work at a different aspect of the same skill area. This can be different ‘types of finishes’ or ‘types of passes’. Each mini team is then reasonable for teaching the other small teams their particular finish or pass. Again, an applicable idea within the whole-part-whole practice design.

Another exciting idea could be to have a match situation (Arsenal 2 – 1 Man City after 80) given to the learners. Within each team, a mini group comes up with the attacking and defending strategy. Perhaps after the first mini match each mini group would then meet up with the opposition (EG Defence and attack for Arsenal & Man City) and educate them on the how/why/when/where of their strategy. An interesting idea could be after each mini group has educated the other side on their strategy, to allow the learners to replay the game (or change game scenario) and see for affordances and differences. Going further, maybe after a couple games, the whole group could come together and come up with one defensive and attacking strategy (in the same scenario?) and try it against another age group at training or wait until the game to put training lessons into practice.

This learning model sounds great because it involves us coaches doing nothing?

The coach is vital to the Jigsaw learning model. A jigsaw based lesson potentially offers:

  1. A fantastic opportunity to observe the learners and further understand the group culture and dynamics of individuals you’re leading. How confident are they? How well do they communicate? How well do they learn and take in the ideas of teams? Absolute vital skills to football and beyond.
  2. Upon seeing the learners’ strategies in practice the coach can further understand learners’ knowledge level and depth of knowledge and to what extent our players translate theory to game play.
  3. How clearly are learners communicating ideas?
  4. How is your practice(s) connected? It will be helpful to players understanding in understanding the journey if the coach can explain what we are trying to achieve using the jigsaw (or for any of session. . .) and how it could help them.
  5. Hold your tongue and don’t run! It’s okay for the learner to struggle. If they are struggling and cannot find the source of information from their teammates or for themselves then the coach steps in. The challenge here using the jigsaw model is the coach guiding rather than telling. One practical idea is for each group to have a designated cone colour which the learner holds up for help (conditions for asking for help as above?).
  6. Manage the quality of conversations and observations but be mindful of taking over the conversations. It’s a fine balance. If you’re intervening, it can be tempting to provide the answers and ensure the learners are told the correct information.
  7. In line with potential communication skills being stressed. The players may actually construct your teaching points to their peers learning level. The learners will explain the points in line with their learning understanding and therefore may explain it to a peer using language that is easier to conceptualise and understand (even if not necessarily correct) rather than using language that a coach would traditional use which may aid learning (may).

The key is in the planning:

  • The practices, technical points or principles need to be appropriate to the players’ level of competence.
  • The different topics also need to be relatable to the game because content covered during training must surely be applicable to the game. Therefore it needs to be an area which players can try to understand clearly such as ‘are we being more successful when pressing’?
  • Planning the potential pitfalls from the player’s point of view and asking the right questions within the small groups to encourage the players to discuss and reflect as well as stretch the learning.

Coaching considerations?

  1. Given the nature of the jigsaw model, it is very reliant upon learner’s interaction. Therefore norms and expectations with the players and the group need to be built up to any jigsaw learning session over time. Furthermore it is of vital important that the training environment is one where the learner feels secure in themselves and their place within the group. If the environment and group culture is established then there is no harm in outlining the expectations on each learner and how they are expected to contribute towards the success of the lesson because a jigsaw approach lives or dies by the player ownership.
  2. The Jigsaw model could be suitable for solving problems sessions. However what if a player is struggling (because it is a demanding experience which we must understand.)? One idea is to allow learners to pair up and share ideas and corporate towards solving a problem. Going further still, the coach can open the principle/ topic/ technical point to the team for guidance and help. The team has to come up with the strategy but the original learner that was struggling is still the spokesperson for the designated area and will feedback and be in charge of the implementation.
  3. These things take time. It may take a few weeks for players to understand the process and adjust to expectations and the environment. Do not expect instant results or for the first practice in practice to flow perfectly. Instead observe the learners, asking are they attempting to pick up key ideas and take them into the game? How well are the teams and mini teams working? Who is struggling and who is striving and how can we help and challenge each end of the spectrum?

So there you have it, a jigsaw model of learning applied to a football session. If you’ve tried this approach or similar, Coaching Diaries would love to hear from you with your insight, guidance or advice. Catch us on twitter, @thecoachingdiaries, where feedback and thoughts are welcome.

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