How to Use Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms for Jigsaw Activities

Joseph Quadrino
Curriculum Specialist
News on March 22 2021


Jigsaw activities are great. They’re collaborative, they’re engaging, they hold students accountable, and they teach multiple ideas in a single lesson. But can they be done remotely? For many teachers, their favorite jigsaw activities were set aside once students began learning at home. There’s just too many logistical challenges! How to distribute the multiple resources, how to create student groups, how to monitor different student groups, how to create a second set of student groups and again monitor… Fortunately for teachers using the Microsoft Teams desktop app, jigsaw activities can safely return.

Key components of a jigsaw activity

A typical jigsaw activity is conducted as such:

  • Divide a lesson into multiple segments. For example, an “Animals” activity can be broken into, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.
  • Divide your students into “share groups” that equal the number of segments. Based on the “Animals” example, each group would have 5 students.
  • Each student from a “share group” is assigned one segment. One student is responsible for mammals, one for birds, etc.
  • Students research/read an article/review their segment independently.
  • Students then move into “expert groups” where each student who read about a segment would move together. For example, every student who read about mammals, would move into an “expert group.”
  • The “expert group” shares what they learned, assisting each other in fully understanding the segment.
  • Students return to “share groups” and report their segment to their peers. Each student will now learn about each segment, completing some kind of graphic organizer or activity.
  • The teacher gives an assessment to ensure that each student learned each segment.

Throughout this process, the teacher can monitor and assist, but the beauty of this activity is that students will be forced to assist one another. In order for each student to learn all of the content, they not only need to rely on their group mates to share with them, but they must also actively listen to their peers.

Modifications to a jigsaw activity while using Microsoft Teams and breakout rooms

For the most part, a virtual jigsaw activity will work just as an in-person. However, there will be a few minor differences:

  • You will assign students their lesson segments
  • Students will begin in their expert groups
  • There will be a small gap of time as a whole class between the expert groups and share groups

Why and how these differences will occur will be discussed later.

Preparing a Virtual Jigsaw Activity Using Microsoft Teams

Just like there is preparation to be done before a successful in-person jigsaw activity, you must also prepare for a virtual one. To best utilize your time during a live virtual meeting, the following should be done BEFORE students join the meeting:

  • Create and collect all lesson resources and graphic organizers
  • Attach all necessary resources and organizers to the Teams meeting/send to students
  • Create an “Assignment” to share graphic organizers that students can work on
  • Know (or at least plan) who will be in all groups
  • A short activity to give between breakout groups. Good examples include: Shared screen with reflection question/preparation tips; SEL check; Microsoft Forms quick assessment; Brain break video/activity
  • An assessment, and a plan to distribute it
  • Create and name the breakout rooms for “expert” groups
  • To create and name your breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams, use the following steps:

    1. Start your meeting (preferably before students are expected to join, but not required).

    2. Select the breakout rooms icon in the top toolbar (to the left of the three-dot menu).

    3. Select how many breakout rooms you will need for the entire meeting (expert groups+share groups); then select “Manually.”

    4. For each room created, select “Rename room” and change the name of each room to reflect the lesson segment of the expert group, or the name of a share group.

    View the OTIS Skills video Creating Breakout Rooms in Teams and Renaming a Breakout Room in Teams for more information on this process.

    How to facilitate the jigsaw activity in Teams

    Now that everything is prepared and ready to go, the Teams meeting is set for students to arrive. When you are ready to begin the jigsaw activity, use the following procedure:

    1. Use a “Do Now” or bell ringer activity to allow time for you to assign students to breakout rooms for expert groups based on the plan you created before the meeting. Select “Assign participants” from the breakout rooms menu, then choose your students and “Assign” them to the correct room.

    2. Review the resources, graphic organizers and instructions with the class.

    3. Start breakout rooms and send students to expert groups. Select “Start rooms” in the breakout rooms menu.

    View the OTIS Skills video Creating Breakout Rooms in Teams for additional information on how to manage your breakout rooms in Teams.

    4. Give time for students to research and collaborate. The teacher can join different breakout rooms to monitor student progress. To do this, select the three-dot menu within the desired room, and then “Join room.”

    5. End all breakout rooms (and return to main meeting as whole class) by selecting “Close rooms.”

    6. Give the short activity you created for students to complete.

    7. As students are working, rearrange students into the share group breakout rooms so that each share group has at least one member of each expert group. To do this, select a student, and then “Assign.”

    View the OTIS Skills video, Moving Students into Breakout Rooms in Teams for further instructions on this process.

    8. Start breakout rooms and send students to share groups. Select “Start rooms” in the breakout rooms menu.

    9. Give time for students to share and complete their graphic organizers.

    10. End breakout rooms and return to main meeting as whole class by selecting Select “Close rooms.”

    11. Give assessment.

    It’s time to bring back those engaging jigsaw activities you thought were a casualty of remote learning. With a little preparation and Microsoft Teams breakout rooms, anything is possible!

    For more tips on how to use virtual jigsaw activities using Microsoft Teams, be sure to check out this blog’s companion OTIS course Using Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms for Jigsaw Activities.

    NOTE: Access to videos linked above requires a subscription to OTIS for educators.

    For more tips, tricks, and tools for teaching in and out of the classroom, check out more articles on the Teq Talk blog.

    We also offer virtual professional development, training, and remote learning support for educators with OTIS for educators. Explore the technology, tools, and strategies that can spark student success — no matter where teaching or learning are happening.