Celebrating My Jigsaw Diet Success

can food guideWritten by Sara Trincao-Batra.

To give context, this activity was done at the end of the Nutritional Science unit of SNC4M.  I chose to do this activity at the end of the unit because the class I was teaching had a test review the next day. This activity was a great way for them to activate previous knowledge that they had acquired from the unit. It also served as a good opportunity for me to walk around the class and do formative assessment “for learning” – gauging what the students seemed to have understood or what they needed help with.  This was especially important for me since they were having their review period the next day. Prior to this activity the students had learned about:

  • Nutrients – what does our body need to function properly and why (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals)
  • Food additives – what is present in our food that not many people know about, what does Health Canada control (for example, aspartame), and what does Health Canada not control (for example, monosodium glutamate)?
  • Portions and Calories- using the Canada Food Guide, what is a portion and a calorie investigation (how much of a particular food is equal to 100 calories?)?
  • How to identify different nutrients in solution – Gizmo activity. The tests that they used in the simulation were: Benedict test (tests for mono-saccharides), Sudan Red (tests for lipids), Lugol test (tests for starch), and Biuret test (protein test).

The activity that worked very well during my practicum was a jigsaw activity. This jigsaw was done on different types of diets. The diets given were: “The Skinny Vegan Diet”, “Dr. Oz’s Yacon Syrup Diet”, “The Atkin’s Diet”, “The Mediterranean Diet”, and “The Paleo Diet”.

The class, which was in an adult high school, was divided into 5 groups of 3-4 students. They were allowed to choose their own groups and then given an information sheet on a particular diet, each group having a different diet. Students were asked to think about the following:

  1. Would you consider trying this diet? Why or why not?
  2. Is there enough evidence out there to support this diet?
    • Who wrote or came up with this diet?
    • Have studies been done to support the ideas this diet presents?
  3. What is this diet?
    • What does someone eat on this diet?
    • What is the idea or theory behind this idea? (For example, the Paleo diet is supposed to convert the body from a carbohydrate burning body to a fat burning body as it was when we were primitive.)
  4. What is your group’s opinion on this diet?
    • Use the knowledge you have acquired throughout the unit to support your opinion.

The class was given 30 minutes to read and discuss their diets and then, each group presented their diet to the rest of the class. Students then had the opportunity to ask their peers any questions they had about the diet.

This diet activity was based on student interest. At the beginning of the unit, students filled out an exit card that asked the question: “What would you like to learn in this unit?” The majority of students were interested in learning about different diets. I thought that the best way to make the most out of the time we had together, while getting as much information as possible, was to do this activity.

The chosen diets were carefully selected.  Each had controversial twists: for example, one of the diets given was “The Skinny Vegan Diet”. This diet is based on a book called “Super Skinny” and is written by a model and a former modeling agent.

This really gave the students an opportunity to think critically about different diets. As I circulated the room, I overheard students saying things like: “Is the person who wrote this diet really someone I should be taking advice from? Does this diet make sense with respect to nutrition? For example, is someone on this diet getting all the food groups? If not, why is it good or bad that they are not getting all the food groups?”

I was delighted to see students using not only their knowledge based on the unit but also their critical thinking skills as they were reading about it. I also incorporated a diet that was mentioned on the popular television program, “Dr. Oz”, because more than 50% of the class watched the show on a daily basis. I wanted them to be able to think critically about products and ideas he presents on the show. Along with this diet, I incorporated a study that Dr. Oz did himself that shows that this diet may not be very successful.

Something else that is worth mentioning is the literacy component of this activity. Both scientific literacy as well as English literacy were taken into consideration. The Science Co-Ordinators’ and Consultants’ Association of Ontario (SCCAO) and the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO/APSO) said:

“A scientifically and technologically literate person is one who can read and understand common  media reports about science and technology, critically evaluate the information presented, and confidently engage in discussions and decision-making activities regarding issues that involve science and technology.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008, p.3)

This is something that I encouraged and was working towards during the lesson. By providing students with controversial diets and opinions about the diets, it encouraged them to communicate scientifically and with confidence.

As science teachers, it is still our responsibility to encourage English literacy amongst our students. This was especially true in the class I was teaching since most students were English Language Learners. By providing the sheet on the diets for them to read and then discuss, they had the opportunity to practice their reading and discussion skills in English which for most students was not their first language.

The school at which I did my practicum was one where there were many English language learners. I feared that this jigsaw activity would be challenging for them; however, I was pleasantly surprised when all students in the classroom were very engaged with  the material. As I circulated around the classroom, I was asked many questions and even asked to provide certain students with more information about the diets.  I was thrilled when I saw students applying the knowledge they had acquired throughout the unit.

A great thing about this activity is that it appeals to a multitude of intelligences. The verbal-linguistic learners enjoy the reading component of this activity, the logical-mathematical learners enjoy the analytical/controversial component of these diets, and the interpersonal learners enjoy the group environment (Government of Ontario, 2010).

This activity worked very well in the classroom. A problem that did arise was that the students were so excited about the opportunity to learn about different diets that we ran out of time for the presentations. To avoid this problem, instead of 5 different diets with 5 different groups, one could have 3 different diets with 6 different groups. Each group could focus on a different aspect of that particular diet. For example, suppose two groups had the Paleo diet. One group could focus on what someone eats on this diet, and the other group could focus on the evidence that supports this diet.

Overall, this activity was a great success! Jigsaw activities are known to make students enthusiastic about their learning and that is definitely what I saw in the classroom. Students have inner curiosity and, as educators, it is up to us to decide how to fuel it. My students enjoyed learning on their own with my guidance when they needed  it. They really enjoyed thinking  critically about things we may see every day on TV, in stores, and in other aspects of our lives.

Everyone comes to the classroom with his/her own values and opinions. In this activity, I was very impartial while circulating around the classroom and allowed the students to make up their own minds about the diets they were presented with. It was extremely rewarding to see their investigation skills at work and I will most definitely be using this activity again in the future.


Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (2011). Cooperation in the classroom: The jigsaw method (3rd ed.). London: Pinter & Martin, Ltd.

Atkins International. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ca.atkins.com/

Cordain, L. (2010). Retrieved from http://thepaleodiet.com/

Expert responses to the yacon project. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.doctoroz.com/expert-responses-yacon-project

Kamb, S. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2010/10/04/the-beginners-guide-to-the-paleo-diet/

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011

Oz, M. (2013, November 01). The yacon syrup project. Retrieved from http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/yacon-syrup-project

Veganism in a nutshell. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm

Wolf, R. (2012). Retrieved from http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/

Zelman, K. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/atkins-diet-what-it-is

Zelman, K. ‘skinny’ vegan diet. (n.d.).Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/skinny-diet-not-big-on-meatw-sweets

Sara Trincao-Batra is a 2014 Galbraith Science Education Award recipient