The Parts of Our Puzzle, by Susan Flanagan
This self-identification activity will help you to unite your classroom early on and give you a glimpse of your students' emerging personalities
Students fit together the pieces of their puzzle. The end product familiarizes kids with each other and produces a great piece of original art for the classroom.
A few years ago, I needed an activity that would unite a classroom. Mid-year I gained two new language arts sections, one sixth and one eighth grade, because class sizes had become too large. The students were feeling torn from their old teacher and apprehensive about me, their new teacher. So, I created the Self-Identification Jigsaw Puzzle Activity to pull us together. I've since used it at the start of school as an introductory, getting-to-know-you lesson. It gives me valuable information about the students, is fun to do, and provides original artwork for my classroom.
Blobs of color.
First, I take a piece of white poster board and cut it into puzzle piece shapes (one for each member of the class). Before cutting out the pieces, I make a small "x" in pencil on one side of the poster board.
As the students arrive, I hand each of them a puzzle piece. Then I tell my new students to imagine waking up and finding their human form has been replaced with blobs of color that represent their identity. The kids then color in the poster board piece on both sides with that color. I've found markers work best because their color is more vibrant than map pencils or crayons.
Next, I instruct the students to think of one word that describes them and to write this word and its definition on the side of the poster board marked with the "x." On the other side, they write their first names as creatively as they desire.
Bringing it all together.
In the next class period, each student presents his or her puzzle piece to the class and explains why they chose their color(s) and their particular word. When they are finished, I invite them to place the puzzle piece on the floor in front of the classroom.
When everyone has presented, I ask for volunteers to put the puzzle together. This part of the activity symbolically brings the class together and provides the teacher with an interesting picture of class dynamics. I also note how long it takes the class to put the puzzle together. This gives me an informal assessment of the group's problem-solving skills.
Once the puzzle is completely taped together, (I use clear tape) I laminate the poster board. The students have created a visual which shows not only each child's individualism, but also how, as a class, we represent a unique whole. I hang each class's finished jigsaw puzzle poster from the ceiling where both sides can be seen with the students' identity words on one side and their names on the other. Each class' personality is evident in their finished puzzle creations.
Susan Flanagan is currently teaching seventh grade Language Arts at Alvin Junior High School in Alvin, TX.