Yes, studying alone and in a quiet space is extremely useful most of the time—but there are instances when studying with someone else can be even more beneficial. For instance, dividing work among the members of a group can help you tackle a huge amount of text and new information. It’s called the jigsaw method and here’s how it works.
What is the jigsaw reading method?
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The jigsaw reading method is a way to break up large amounts of text and make it easier to understand. It was actually conceptualized in the 1970s, when social psychologist Elliot Aronson sought to combat racial bias among elementary-aged kids in a classroom where students had recently been integrated. He figured out how to make the environment less competitive and more cooperative among groups of children.
It was originally used for young kids, but per guidance from the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, it’s appropriate for learners of all ages. It’s designed to turn individuals into experts in unique topics, then empower them to help their peers better understand those topics.
How jigsaw learning works
There are actually two ways to do jigsaw learning:
- If you have a smaller group of people to work with, break the reading into chunks of one or two paragraphs and assign everyone a chunk. Each person reads their assigned chunk and works on it until they know it extremely well, then everyone takes turns teaching the group about their mini topic. At the end of the discussion, all members of the group should understand everything the text went over—but didn’t have to read it all.
- If you have a bigger group of people to work with, smaller groups can tackle individual chunks of text. In classroom settings, once a smaller group masters a concept, one learner leaves to sit with a different group and learn about their concept from them and the cycle goes around until everyone has had a chance to go learn from the other groups. In a college or workplace setting, this can be more easily and usefully accomplished with a collaborative document: Each group can summarize their reading in a Google Doc or similar, ultimately creating a cheat sheet that condenses the full text into a few paragraphs.
If you’re working on a group project at school or work or are friendly enough with colleagues or classmates to suggest studying together, you can play with different methods here, as long as the main practice involves chunking the work up and giving everyone something to become an expert in. This works like the Feynman method from there: Whoever becomes the expert in a given topic is responsible for understanding it and then distilling it until it’s possible for everyone else to grasp it easily, which means that person has to really get it first. Everyone else benefits from getting a simple explanation of a complex topic and, ultimately, everybody learns the main messages of the text, both through teaching it to group members and having it taught to them.