Jigsaw puzzles are a common sight in PreK and early elementary classrooms. Little ones learn spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, and basic concepts like shapes and letters using these puzzles. By late elementary, puzzles are usually relegated to a game shelf to be brought out during indoor recess, if at all. But jigsaw puzzles offer benefits for all ages, and teachers can use them in a variety of ways, some of which may surprise you.
Classroom Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles
Older adults are regularly encouraged to do more puzzles of all kinds to help fight off dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Puzzles seem to help with memory and recall, and school-aged kids can certainly benefit from this too. There are plenty of educational jigsaw puzzles available of things like maps or the periodic table of elements. Assembling these puzzles is a low-stress and fun way to familiarize kids with concepts they need to memorize.
One company, Standards in Puzzles, takes things a step further. They create jigsaw puzzles on a variety of topics with coordinating lesson plans and ideas. Each puzzle actually focuses on one or more of the Common Core standards. Their puzzles include science and math concepts (see their “Pi Puzzle” below), but also topics like “Figurative Language” or “The Feudal System.”
Aside from teaching new concepts and facts, jigsaw puzzles are a constructive way to keep kids quiet and focused. When students work together on puzzles, they learn teamwork, cooperation, and sharing. There’s a feeling of satisfaction in fitting the pieces together, one that can be calming for many people. Puzzles don’t require instructions or rules—students can sit down and work on them for a few minutes at a time, any time.
How to Use Jigsaw Puzzles in the Classroom
Photo: Artaxerxes/Creative Commons
Almost any teacher can make space in their classroom for a table with a few chairs pulled around it. Don’t leave the puzzles on the shelf—open the box, spread out the pieces, and invite students to get involved.
Fill up free time. Students can tackle puzzles for a few minutes at the beginning or end of class. Those who finish their work early can spend a few minutes fitting pieces together while others catch up.
Build community. A single jigsaw puzzle worked on by kids from multiple class periods can be a fun way to give them something to talk about. Or, set up several puzzles, one for each period, and challenge them to see who can complete theirs first.
Create a calm space. Many people find working on puzzles calms the mind and allows them to focus better. Let a couple of students work on a puzzle while listening to a lecture or other quiet activity. Make it a space where kids can spend a few minutes during class, fitting a few pieces and re-focusing their thoughts.
Frame their efforts. Buy poster frames and hang the puzzles once complete. You can also glue them together using special puzzle glue, but placing them in poster frames allows you to take the puzzle apart again for use another year.
What about missing pieces?
Everyone hates getting to the end of a puzzle and finding a piece or two missing. You can address this in a couple of ways. First, many reputable companies will send you a missing piece if you contact them. Or, if that’s not possible, have your students fill in the blank! Get some stiff cardboard and have them cut out the shape and color it in.
Jigsaw Puzzles We Love
Here’s a selection of our favorite jigsaw puzzles to use in the classroom. Some are educational, some are inspirational, and some are just downright fun. They range from 200 to 1000 pieces, so you’ll find one appropriate for any age or level.
Just a heads up: WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!
Nevertheless, She Persisted
Motivate your students with quotes from well-known and inspiring women throughout history. (Cobblehill Puzzles, 1000 pieces, $19)
Periodic Table of the Elements
EuroGraphics makes two versions of the this puzzle, one with 200 pieces and one with 1000, so there’s an option for both younger and older kids. (200 piece Periodic Table, $10 / 1000 piece Periodic Table, $20)
Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle
This magical tale has universal appeal, and kids of all ages will love assembling this beautiful image of Hogwarts. (Aquarius, 1000 pieces, $16)
The Solar System
Take a trip through the solar system, exploring the planets along the way. (Ravensburger, 200 pieces, $13)
Common Core Pi Puzzle
This puzzle actually comes with lesson plans. How cool is that? (Pi Puzzle, 513 pieces, $22)
Color Your Own Puzzle
Assemble this jigsaw puzzle, then color it in—it’s two activities in one! (Cardinal Coloring Puzzle, 300 pieces, $10)
Evolution Tree of Life
Biology teachers will love this jigsaw puzzle, based on Darwin’s tree of life concept. (EuroGraphics, 1000 pieces, $17)
Celebrate great scientists like Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Albert Einstein. (Mudpuppy, 500 pieces, $14)
Hang out at the watering hole and see if you can spot all the wild animals in this beautiful jigsaw puzzle. (Bits and Pieces, 500 pieces, $14)
American Civil War
Here’s one for the history teachers. This detailed puzzle maps out battles and highlights important leaders in the conflict. (White Mountain Puzzles, 1000 pieces, $18)
Crossword Jigsaw Puzzle
Here’s another two-in-one puzzle: solve the crossword, then use it to help you assemble the puzzle. (Babalu, 550 pieces, $12)
Political World Map
Studying world geography? This jigsaw puzzle is perfect for your class. It also includes flags of the world’s countries. (Ravensburger, 1000 pieces, $20)
Wild America Map
Here’s another take on map jigsaw puzzles, combining geography with the wild animals of the United States. (Sunsout, 600 pieces, $15)
Story Time Books
How many of your storytime favorites are shown in this colorful puzzle? (White Mountain, 1000 pieces, $40)
International Space Rockets
Trace the history of space travel and compare the various rockets used with this cool puzzle. (EuroGraphics, 1000 pieces, $20)
Alice in Wonderland
Fall down the rabbit hole with this colorful puzzle featuring Alice and all her friends. (Tenyo, 500 pieces, $20)
Murder Mystery Puzzle
Read the story, build the puzzle, and then try to solve the mystery. There are so many fun applications for jigsaw puzzles like this one in the classroom. (Bits and Pieces, 1000 pieces, $16)
Birds of Eastern and Western America
Learning about your local feathered friends? These puzzles use images from the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology featuring common backyard birds. (New York Puzzle Company, Western Birds, $22 / Eastern Birds, $22)
National Parks of the USA
Take a field trip without leaving your classroom. This puzzle highlights the best America’s National Parks have to offer. (White Mountain, 1000 pieces, $20)
This round puzzle gives everyone a good seat at the table. Plus, it’s mouth-wateringly detailed! (Bits and Pieces, 300 pieces, $14)
What are your favorite puzzles for the classroom? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, try these 10 Magical Math Puzzles Students Will Love!