Jig-saw and/or Info Gaps?

There are times when I am trying to solve a puzzle, and there are days when my mind prefer to create puzzles in order to solve them. Today is such a day. Well, to be completely honest, this has been on my mind for some time lately, and working on materials for an online speaking module (or rather, procrastinating and using Friday as an excuse) I felt it would be a good time to write about one of those puzzles.

I have been using terms ‘Jig-saw’ and ‘Info-Gap’ in my teacher lingo and classroom repertoire for years and years. One could even say I ‘abuse’ them. The same is true about my training sessions and courses for teachers. I like the interactive aspect such activities bring and their learner-centered (learning-centered) nature.

A part or the whole?

Some notes below were taken in the process of my basic research on the subject, and its main purpose is not to forget what I learned.

The article on Developing Speaking Activities from The National Capital Language Resource Center website refers to both of them as ‘Structured Output Activities’ where ‘students complete a task by obtaining missing information, a feature the activities have in common with real communication’.

An information gap activity is an activity where learners are missing the information they need to complete a (communicative) task and need to talk to each other to find it. – from Teaching English

Well-known examples include: describe and draw (your house), spot the difference (between the two pictures), split dictations (half of train schedule to complete), etc.

Jigsaw activities are more elaborate information gap activities that can be done with several partners. Each partner has one or a few pieces of the “puzzle,” and the learners must cooperate to fit all the pieces into a whole picture. In other words, jigsaw technique is a method of organizing classroom activity that makes students dependent on each other to succeed. It breaks classes into groups and breaks assignments into pieces that the group assembles to complete the (jigsaw) puzzle. – from Wikipedia

I was curious to learn about the purpose of creating such a technique in the US in 1950s by social psychologists: according to Wikipedia, such activities helped kids in mixed schools be integrated and reduce racial discrimination. Knowing this I now see the difference between these activity types more clearly: jig-saw can be seen as a way to make a lesson flow more interactive and encourage learners to cooperate, whereas info gap tasks are aiming to simulate real-life communication and can help developing more than just grammatical and lexical skills.

Extra reading:

Creating Meaningful Speaking Activity to Young Learners by Using Information Gap by Dian Savitri and Danny Lutvi Hidayat

Great Idea: Jigsaw activities from the British Council site

Find the Gap – Increasing Speaking in Class by Gareth Rees (my all-time favorite old article!)

Sandy Millin’s post focusing on how set up such activities (it may be hard if you are doing it for the first time with your students!)

The Jigsaw Technique post on Education World, with links to resources and examples

Can be a jig-saw puzzle. Possibly.

Final (mostly related) thoughts:

Hana Ticha’s post earlier this month reminded me about this topic and was an inspiration to write this post. In the post, the classroom examples she uses might each be an illustration to the difference described here. But… does it matter to the student learning? Is this terminology for the sake of it?

In my first ever teacher training course back in 2005 (time flies!) I tried to challenge myself and asked the group of teachers to browse through a course book and find an activity they think I would not be able to turn into an info gap or jig-saw type of activity. They spent about 10 minutes reading, then closed the books and gave up. I have often been using the same task in training sessions since then 🙂

Questions to ponder:

Are such activities helpful to all/most/some learners?

What might their disadvantages be? One I can think about is the ‘push’ to talk to others, not leaving a choice for more introvert, shy or less confident learners.

Is it important to know the terms in order to make more conscious classroom choices?

How does knowing the difference help teachers (or does not it?)

Thank you for reading! 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
This entry was posted in Teacher Reflections, Trainer Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Jig-saw and/or Info Gaps?

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Not sure I can answer any of your questions Zhenya, but I thought you and other readers might find this post from my archives useful: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/how-to-set-up-an-information-gap/ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    I just wanted to let you know that after reading your post, I felt inspired and prepared a jigsaw reading activity for Monday. I realized I hadn’t done any for a long time so I’m curious to see what comes out of it. Now on to reading Sandy’s post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Communicative Activities? | Wednesday Seminars

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