The People Puzzle

Each fall, I look forward to the joy and adventures of teaching new students. The more the students and I understand about one another, the richer their learning experiences.
Grade Level

In preparation for class, I tape together the edges of six sheets of white tagboard to make a large combined piece. This will be the “people puzzle.” Then I draw enough random puzzle pieces to equal the number of students. I make sure to draw a few extras just in case some new students arrive during the year—and for me. I cut out the puzzle pieces and place them on a table near the classroom door. The puzzle pieces with straight edges make the puzzle’s frame. As students enter the class, I greet them and ask them to make a circle. I explain the day’s activities as listed on the board, then introduce the people puzzle as a way to get to know each other.

I demonstrate the task for the students. With a marker I print my name on one puzzle piece. Students then write their names in bold letters on their puzzle pieces. I ask students to use only one color when writing their names; using a different color for each letter makes it difficult to read. Then I glue on a picture of my dog and print her name next to the picture. I draw other aspects about my life, including my favorite books and places where I have travelled. I let the students know they need to bring pictures from home or pictures that they draw for us to complete our puzzle pieces.

At the end of the week, the students present their puzzle pieces and what each one means. Then, silently, we put the people puzzle together. It takes quite a while, but students begin to help each other by offering suggestions about where they think a puzzle piece belongs. When it’s finished, I ask: “What do you think this activity means?” Afterward, we tape the people puzzle together and hang it on the wall for a month.

In the late spring, I hang the people puzzle back up on the wall. The students reflect on who they were at the beginning of the year. Then they write about what they have learned and how they have grown. In our last hours together, with parents present, we reflect on our special memories. Finally, again in silence, we cut the puzzle pieces apart and students take theirs home.

This is a rich experience—beginnings and endings. It is a very meaningful visual ritual that will be remembered for a long time.

Launa Ellison
Retired from Barton School
Minneapolis, Minn.