Puzzles…the greatest and blessing and curse in a cluster program classroom.  There are so many benefits to using puzzles in the classroom.  Putting together a variety of puzzles (including frame and jigsaw) are skills in Section B of the ABLLS-R assessment.  It is also a great activity to have at an independent center as part of a mini-schedule and can also be used as part of leisure skills.  Unfortunately, puzzles have lots of tiny pieces and when you combine that with students, it results in a lot of missing pieces and a lot of headaches for you as a teacher. Here are five tips for organizing puzzles to keep all the pieces together for students and to keep you sane…

1. Sort the Puzzles

Figure out how to sort the puzzles in your classroom. Maybe you want to do it by type or difficulty-I do it both ways in my classroom. I organize all the jigsaw puzzles by difficulty (easy, medium and hard) and organize the remaining puzzles by type (academic, frame puzzles and floor puzzles). If you are sorting them by difficulty, have a piece limit to help determine the difficulty. For example, in my classroom, jigsaw puzzles that are 24 pieces or less are put in the “easy” category. When I sort puzzles by type, it’s a little more straightforward. The floor puzzles are obviously larger puzzles meant to complete on the the floor, while frame puzzles have a frame around the pieces. What I call “academic” puzzles are puzzles where you match uppercase with lowercase letters, puzzles matching opposites or letter puzzles that make words. Decide what makes the most sense for your classroom!

2. Decide on a Storage System and Location 

Choose a location for the puzzles in the classroom that has enough space and that makes sense for your classroom. For example, I put my puzzles close to the break area and the centers table (individual work station) so the students have access to the puzzles at all times. When students are finished early with work in my classroom, they know to get a puzzle to work on and having the puzzles in a central location is helpful for my classroom.

After you choose a location, decide if it’s best to keep the puzzles in boxes or if you would like to use a different system. Storing them in boxes takes up more space, but is a more functional way to store them, as most people store puzzles in boxes in their homes. To save space (per the suggestion of Sasha), I store my puzzles in Ziploc bags. You are able to store more puzzles and sort them by container. Storing puzzles in bags is more practical for classroom because the bags can fully close and it’s easier for students to grab the bag with one hand.

3. Gather Your Supplies

Gather your supplies that you need to organize your puzzles. I use Ziploc bags with slider close to store the puzzles, star stickers to color code the puzzles, Sharpies that match the star stickers to label piece and bags and index cards so I have a place to glue the puzzle picture. You also need scissors to cut the puzzle pictures off of the box and glue. You may also want to use a laminator to laminate the card you glue the puzzle picture in order for it to remain sturdy through each use.

4. Assign a Number & Label 

I organize my puzzles by numbering each puzzle, putting the number on the back of each piece, labeling the bag with the number and including the picture of the puzzle. I also label the bag with the color star that matches the container. On the picture of the completed puzzle, I also put the puzzle number and color star so it’s easier to match with the puzzle if the picture gets separated from the puzzle. I store frame puzzles completed and assign each frame puzzle a letter instead of a number. If there is a missing piece, this makes it easier to determine of that piece came from one of the frame puzzles rather than one of the jigsaw puzzles. You could also use shapes or symbols on the backs of the pieces to help organize and locate pieces.

I also create a master list of what number or letter I assign to a puzzle so if I get a new puzzle, I can assign a letter or number that hasn’t already been used. I can also use the list if there is a missing piece, so I am able to see the color/level of the puzzle.

5. Maintain the Organization

Teach students (and staff) your organization system to make sure they understand how to get and put away the puzzles correctly. The first few times students use puzzles, be by the containers when they are finished to draw their attention to the color-coding system and ensure they put the puzzle in the right box. Take a piece out of one of the puzzles and show students how to find the correct number bag and put the missing piece in the correct place.

I hope you are inspired to organize your puzzles or start to incorporate puzzles as part of your classroom.  Share any tips you have for organizing puzzles below!

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