Think Win-Win


To have students realize that many of us are competitive by nature and that can sometimes cause us to lose sight of our collective goals.

Time Required

20–35 minutes


  • A timer
  • Three paper lunch bags
  • Three similar jigsaw puzzles (e.g., children’s 24-piece puzzles with well-known characters)


Before the lesson, prepare the puzzles by opening each box and randomly splitting the pieces into three piles of eight pieces each. I use three paper lunch bags to gather eight pieces of each puzzle together. This gives me 24 pieces in a bag, with eight pieces from each of the three puzzles.

Prepare four flat surfaces (desktops or tabletops) in the corners of your workspace. Three of these will be used by the students to put together a puzzle. The fourth table will be the “sharing table.” You won’t want the students to interact except at the sharing table.

Break your students into three relatively equal-sized groups, and have each group go to a table. Point out the fourth table and let students know that it is the sharing table.

Begin by posting the goal for the activity, which is to complete three puzzles as quickly as possible. Next, spend some time posting and going over the rules:

  1. No team may visit the workspace of another team or communicate with another team unless at the sharing table.
  2. You must have 24 puzzle pieces at your workspace unless you take some to the sharing table, in which case you must return with the same number that you originally took (so you’ll have 24 pieces whenever all members of the group are at their workspace).
  3. Only one team member may visit the sharing table at any time. Multiple teams may send one representative at the same time. This is where teams interact.

When everyone understands the goal and the rules, give each group a bag with their pieces. Start the timer and let the students begin.

Observe the groups as they discover they cannot just put their pieces together because they have parts from different puzzles. Someone will realize that they must trade the pieces they do not want. Watch as they try to trade. Who first realizes that they can help another team? Does a team keep a piece they know is needed by another group so that they might finish first?

We tend to be competitive. Outbursts such as, “We win!” are not uncommon. Did your students forget the goal, to complete three puzzles as quickly as possible? It requires that they work together and not compete. Notice that I use the terms “group” and “team” interchangeably. Groups work together, but when you replace the word “group” with “team,” does it sound more competitive?


Point out what you witnessed during the process. Reveal the time it took to complete. Ask students to share what they witnessed and how they felt during the activity.

  1. Did anyone feel competitive?
  2. Did anyone feel as if they won (or lost)?
  3. When did they complete the goal? Was it when the first team finished or the last?
  4. Did any participant show a willingness to work with other groups to complete the task?
  5. Do we ever compete in “real-life activities” when we would do better to help each other out?
  6. What is meant by having a “win-win attitude”?
  7. Is it ever appropriate to be competitive?

Kim Goldhirsch teaches and advises student leadership at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY, and is the financial officer for the New York State Council on Leadership and Student Activities.