Islam in RE#3 & Norwich High School for Girls#5

A combined description of last weeks event at University of East Anglia and Norwich High School for Girls Stage 4: Create cross-class teams – continued from previous post. See overview of NHSG lesson plan here.

After having each read the materials and given an oral presentations summarizing their knowledge to their teammates, we now want to distribute all this knowledge across the class.

Notice the vital point that you may choose whether to give each team materials grouped in themes, as was the case in Norwich City High School for Girls, or whether you want to just hand out random materials, so all teams get access to a variety of information. The second means less preparation of materials, as you may feed anything to anybody.

If materials are very difficult, it is even possible to give each team the exact same material (i.e. every team of four gets four identical texts), so that when students holding similar texts convene, there is a greater chance that key points will register, as each student presents his unique take and negotiates the importance. Here is how it works:

Speed reversed Jigsaw Puzzle

Readers familiar with the this classic Cooperative Learning technique, the Jigsaw Puzzle, will recognize this as a reversed up-tempo version.  It is often attributed to social psychologist Elliot Aronson, who designed it to help weaken racial cliques in forcibly integrated schools in the US in the early 70s.

In the classic Jigsaw Puzzle, each student’s “piece” is essential for the completion and full understanding. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential; and that is precisely what makes this strategy so effective.



As in normal Jigsaw, students in this stage of Islam in RE and the NHSG workshop are members of two different  teams: home team and expert team (In NHSG called Theme Teams). But rather than being assigned different topics in the home team and then fanning out to form the expert teams only to return home at the end, I had them start out in the expert team, and then fanned them out to form teams in which to share their knowledge.

This  reversed version saves a step by  instantly forming expert teams. Nevertheless, the individual responsibility  is not compromised; each student is still accountable for presenting her Theme Team’s findings  once she is in the mixed team. This is a useful time saver.

Who goes where

The class management is the key to Cooperative Learning; one might say that’s all there is to it. You want your classroom to run like a well-oiled engine, so interaction facilitates learning instead of blocking it.

The simplest way, and a classic in Jigsaw strategy, is colour coding or numbering the materials. All reds or ones, go here, all blues or twos go here, etc. However, what if materials are not categorised, or you start out in the expert team, so everyone in the team has the same information from the outset. In Norwich High school, the six Theme Teams had a host of random texts to choose from, so colour coding here would not work.

The simplest way is this:

Puzzle redistribution


Regardless of materials or number of students, this creates new teams. Note that this way of distributing students is an informal way to share knowledge, in the sense that if you have more than four teams of four student, as was the case in NHSG and most classes across the country, every bit of information will not reach every student. This is a decision that must be made in advance when choosing the distribution method.

Participants of  Islam in RE at the UEA, saw both methods; in the afternoon,  each team was handed four colour coded texts with key-terms on the four elements of SMSC, Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education. Here, there was exact information that needed to be distributed across class, to make sure all participants were on the same page for Module B on Controversy through Enquiry regardless of professional background.

By simply assigning a specific table to each “colour” redistribution of pupils took about 60 seconds. A hint in expert teams is that they should not be more than four, so if you have more than four home teams, its better to make several expert teams of 3 dealing with the same text, than few of 5 or 6 or 7.

Information sharing

Once out in the new teams, student repeat the CLIP Word-Round, exactly as in the original team. But now, each presents ALL information picked up in previous team rather than his own.  In NHSG International Players and Politics met Traditional Islamic Education met Modern Education in the Middle East met Syria – history, education, sects and politics.

In the morning session in Islam in RE, students were not coming from theme-based team, all were tasked with looking for the same information in various texts.


It’s always a good idea to make sure there is extra material available, so if one student gets completely bogged down or if one is particularly fast, there is always an alternative to keep her occupied. Also, making students aware of the importance of skimming and scanning, rather than attempting to engage in extensive reading.

Extensive reading and Cooperative Learning is another ball-game altogether. A simply way is to employ one of the above forms of Jigsaw a couple of times, so they know the level of responsibility they face, and then let them prepare the material at home. Arriving in class, they form expert teams and simply present findings as exemplified in stage 5.

Next up is finally the promise post on using the Communal Spider Diagram, which was employed in both types of teams at NHSG.

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