Using Jigsaw Puzzles for Critical Thinking

Jul 8, 2015

I had a scary jigsaw puzzle experience this year.

We had a big math event back in the spring where students got to go to different classrooms for a specific math activity.  One of the rooms had lots of different jigsaw puzzles.  I moved from room to room but found myself spending a lot of time in that room.  Many (MANY) of our students had no idea how to solve a puzzle like this.

I watched children trying to fit pieces together that did not remotely look like they would fit together.  Straight concept of what they were for.  Strategies...there really weren't any.

It freaked me out, to be honest.

But then I started questioning myself...why do I personally feel that jigsaw puzzles are important?  Why do I buy them for my own girls?  Why do I download jigsaw puzzle apps for them to play?  What do I feel that my students are missing out on?

And what I decided it comes down to for me is problem solving and critical thinking.

Many times when we hear problem solving and we think of math.  And YES, I need them to have those skills in math.  But problem solving and critical thinking are just as crucial in reading. I see it so often.  They come to words that they don't know and they MUST have those problem solving and critical thinking skills to attack and solve that word.

When I witnessed my students not using problems solving or critical thinking skills to put the puzzle together, I started to make some connections in my own brain.  Would working on jigsaw puzzles help my students to problem solve and critically think in other areas of learning (like reading)?


I don't know.  There is not a lot of research out there.  But in my own professional opinion (if that counts), yes, yes it does.  Students must come to problems with the confidence and thinking skills to solve it.  Puzzles help to cultivate this skill.  Students must analyze stories and pay attention to detail when reading.  Puzzles help to nurture this skill.  The list just continues...

I actually found a post about the 42 Benefits to Jigsaw Puzzles.  It was a great post and it confirmed my thoughts.

But now what?  I believe that there are transferable skills that come out of jigsaw puzzles and my students don't have these skills.  So we work on this.  During this upcoming year my school has already decided that we will host a game night once a week.  And puzzles will be a BIG part of these nights.  Families will have the opportunity to complete puzzles together, take puzzles home, and listen to the benefits of doing these puzzles with their children at home.

So what are your thoughts on the benefits of puzzles?  Do you think they can help students be better critical thinkers?

Check out more posts below on ways to help create critical thinkers in your classroom.


  1. Thanks for sharing! It definitely gave me something to think about. We're planning on having more family bights this year as well! I'm definitely going to bring up puzzles.

    1. I have even had puzzles at my centers before because I just think they need that critical thinking and this is not something that they get in their homes (many of my students, at least). I hope you guys can include some puzzles too!

  2. Wonderful! I had puzzles out in my previous job, but not since entering first grade. It was too discouraging--they could not figure out straight edges and the shapes and colors, oh my! And I had so many needs that I did not sit and help. What if my parent volunteer helped do puzzles... Great idea, I cannot wait to get this going!!!

  3. I went to 3 workshops this week about critical thinking. It is obviously something important if there were that many options available! I am not a very good "puzzle doer", but I enjoy sitting with my kiddos and teaching them strategies to work on puzzles (usually explaining the corners and straight edges). Great post!

    A Very Curious Class

  4. Hi there! I think the point you made about students needing to learn to solve problems and have strategies is soooo true! Whether it's puzzles, math problems or a text, I find students often give up so easily because they have no idea how to even START problem solving! I'm going to dig out the puzzles I have and put them to use! ~ Lisa

  5. Kids so don't know how to solve a puzzle these days. It's kind of a lost art. I do think they learn to look for patterns and similarities when doing puzzles, and if they're working with someone else, they learn cooperation too. There's also the idea of perseverance. Yep, lots to learn from doing them.


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