Maths - Triumph with Tarsias

13th July 2012 at 01:00
Maths teachers, it's time to join the jigsaw revolution

When I began my teaching career, Tarsia jigsaws were the new kid on the block. You couldn't go to a maths conference without being armed with a pair of scissors and being set to work cutting out little triangles and fitting them back together again. And the Tarsia revolution was only just beginning.

In the years that followed, Tarsias spread across maths departments, with NQTs and more experienced teachers alike keen to jump on the jigsaw bandwagon. But are they any better for pupils' learning than simply working through 20 questions in the textbook? The answer to that depends entirely on how you use them.

There is certainly an argument that pupils respond better to routine questions when they are contained in a jigsaw than if they are listed on a page. Something about the kinaesthetic nature of moving questions and answers together speaks to the subconscious of the child, saying: "If you are cutting things out you must be having fun."

But to only use Tarsias in this way is to do a wonderful piece of free software a great injustice. By introducing a few of the following twists, you can add a richness that goes way beyond the learning experience to be found in a textbook.

- Missing answers: choose a couple of the cards and leave the answer (or the question) blank so pupils have to fill it in.

- Deliberate mistakes: announce at the start of the activity that you have made two mistakes in the puzzle. Pupils must identify and correct them.

- Non-unique solutions: make a couple of the answers the same, so pupils have to use logic and thinking skills to assemble the entire puzzle correctly.

- Order of difficulty: when pupils have finished the puzzle, get them to select the three most difficult pieces to match and explain what makes them tricky.

- Revision lessons: ask pupils to create Tarsia puzzles on difficult topics (the software is free, so it can be installed on school and home computers) and challenge each other to solve them.

I have shared all my Tarsias on TES Resources, so feel free to download them and adapt them as you wish. Let the second phase of the revolution begin.

Craig Barton is an advanced skills teacher at Thornleigh Salesian College, Bolton. He is the creator of and TES subject adviser for secondary maths. He can be found on Twitter at @TESMaths


Check out the WebWhizz Tarsia collection recommended by Craig Barton.

Or try chuckieirish's games and activities, including many Tarsias, to keep pupils active in the maths classroom.


A teacher is looking for interesting activities to spice up basic number work. Can you offer any inspiration?

Find all links and resources at


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