Puzzle Centers

Hi friends! Have you tried puzzle centers in your school library?

Last week, I received this question from Candace C.:

“After my first center rotation I am feeling overwhelmed and not as confident as I did before I started. Even a simple puzzle station seemed to be a disaster. How do you keep your puzzle pieces from getting mixed up and do you leave them out for kids to keep adding to or do you only use small puzzles?”

jigsaw puzzle pieces

Here’s how puzzle centers work at our elementary school library. This post does include affiliate links for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

One Puzzle at a Time

I only put out one puzzle at a time. This way, the pieces of different puzzles don’t get mixed up with each other. That puzzle stays out for a week, and then it’s packed up and replaced by a different puzzle the next week.

usa puzzle

My collection includes :

100 Pieces or Less

I’ve learned over time that 100 pieces are the upper limit of what our students feel confident to tackle. Larger puzzles seem to overwhelm them, and they won’t even start working on them.

I was surprised that even 5th graders will work on the easier 24-piece puzzles. They usually complete them from start to finish in one class visit.

I Spy jigsaw puzzle

For the larger puzzles, one class starts working on the puzzle, and we leave the partially completed puzzle out for the next class to work on. When a class completes the puzzle, I leave it out for the remainder of that class’s library visit because they are so proud of their accomplishment. As soon as they leave, I break it apart and the next class starts the puzzle all over again.

A Sign for Every Center

As you know, I don’t ever set up a learning center without a sign stating my expectations and the learning objectives.

Here’s a PDF sign you can download to start a puzzle center in YOUR library! Click here to grab the free download. 

Display Books at Puzzle Centers

I find books related to the puzzle and display them on the table with the puzzle center. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect a student with a “just right” book! For example, if we are working on a planet puzzle, I display planet books!

More Benefits of Puzzle Centers

Why do I set up puzzle centers in our library? In addition to the AASL standard of working productively with others, jigsaw puzzles also help students in these ways:

  • problem solving
  • fine motor skills
  • hand and eye coordination
  • the satisfaction of achieving a goal

Have you tried puzzle centers in your school library? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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    1. One puzzle at a time and 48 pieces is usually the most they can handle. I have some larger 100 piece Wimpy Kid puzzles that I put out for 3rd and 4th graders with the understanding that it is a work in progress and not to take it apart at the end of centers but let the next class work on it. I try to take pics of their finished products with their smiling faces. They love that.

    2. My students love the puzzle center. I put a more challenging puzzle (48 plus pieces) out for the 3-5 grades and an easier puzzle for the younger kids. I try to leave the harder one out as a work in progress so classes can build on the project. The library is used before and after school for meetings and enrichment classes so I roll up the hard puzzle in a puzzle mat that I found at Tuesday Morning. Definitely display the sign so the students know the expectation for that center.

    3. I had a puzzle center. I would have only 1 puzzle out at a time. Every grade worked on the puzzle at hand. While a class or individual students would be upset they couldn’t finish a puzzle they started, the method of 1 puzzle at a time was much easier than having to take down and put up a different puzzle for different grades.

    4. Another benefit I noticed was in class behavior. I had a tough group last year but they knew that a possible consequence during instructional time was losing the right to use centers and it stopped some ongoing behavior I had been struggling with!

    5. Hi,

      Do you put something underneath the puzzle or leave it on the table they are working on? Also, have you found any puzzles related to books besides diary of a wimpy kid?


      1. Deirdre,
        I leave the puzzle on the table. Students finish it, then we take it apart again and build it again. I’m lucky that we don’t have others use the library after school, so I can leave it out. I check the puzzle section at Target and Wal-mart whenever I’m there, and I often find other book puzzles, like Seuss or Eric Carle or Pinkalicious.
        Thanks for your comment!

    6. I am at a K-8 school and I put out puzzles every two weeks. The puzzles never have more than 500 pieces which works out well since all the staff and students work on the puzzles. I like the idea of the sign. I think I will incorporate that into my center. I also like the idea of displaying the books around the center. I may have to get a bigger table though.

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