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Differentiation Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Do Jigsaw Puzzles

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“Aunt Josephine? When we go to the store for puzzles, can we not get jigsaw puzzles?” I pleaded.

Wisely, she left my question unanswered and said, “We’ll see what they have when we get there.”

My seven-year-old self fretted the whole rest of the day and all the way to the dime store in town. My 10-year-old sister and I were staying for a week at Aunt Josephine’s farm.

Why we would continue to keep going back year after year when we got so homesick, I don’t know, but we persisted in the coming years. A lot of it was fun- -spending time with the baby animals, riding on the tractor and in the back of the hay wagon- -but the dark and noisy nights scared us. Farm animal noises.

Anyway, one of the things Aunt Josephine loved was jigsaw puzzles. She and my sister were enjoying putting together a difficult puzzle. I don’t know how many pieces- -maybe 500, 200, or possibly even less. I don’t remember, but the number of pieces was daunting to me! I did not enjoy helping, and it probably made me more homesick and lonely watching them do the puzzle together.

When my aunt told me she would buy a puzzle for me that I would like, I got excited, but remained skeptical. I couldn’t imagine there was such a thing, so I worried.

That evening, as she promised, she took us into town and right to the toy section.

And there, when I saw it, I jumped for joy: a cardboard puzzle in a tray, with guides to line up the 15 pieces. A puzzle that rocked a picture of a sweet kitten in a basket. My heart soared! Now that’s a puzzle. That’s the kind of puzzle I love.

“Oh good,” I said. “They have good puzzles here–not jigsaw puzzles.”

My aunt showed me the label: 15-piece jigsaw puzzle. “I guess you will be able to get a jigsaw puzzle, after all,” she said, with a smile. Then she bought me two different kitten puzzles.


I was reminded of that story this morning as I made a verb game for my students–some of whom are advanced grade five readers, as good as many native English speaking grade 5 students I’ve known. On the other hand, some of them are still learning basic English vocabulary. All of them study half of their day in Arabic subjects.

Differentiation. We can all play the games, all do the work, all learn the strategies. We sometimes need to do it at a different level, and that’s OK.

Purpose: practicing with verb forms. #differentiation #cy365 #t365project

A post shared by Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs) on

Author: Denise Krebs

I'm the chief learner in life's adventure.

9 Comments

  1. How interesting that you recall this story from your childhood. Differentiation has been around forever, but we may not have realized it.

  2. I like the connection of your hesitation over puzzles and the differentiation in the classroom. I think it’s an act of nurturing and paying attention, to provide different levels of learning, and not something that always needs to be taught.

  3. What a wonderful analogy, Denise! It really works, especially the way you tie it to story in this way. Neat to hear a little slice of your childhood. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love how you take this tender family slice and glean teaching wisdom from it.

  5. There are ways that we can all join in.

    I especially like your tag line: chief learner in life’s adventure.”

  6. Your story brought back clearly those 15-piece puzzles!! I had a set in my classroom when I was a Kindergarten teacher. I felt like I was at the farm and in the toy store with you, feeling your homesickness and excitement of finding something you could do. And now, all the students you teach with week will have that same feeling. Thanks for add the image of the balls at the end. And the reminder of the importance of differentiating.

  7. It is important that we all need some of life’s lessons differentiated. I like how you used your own experience to help reflect on your students learning styles.

  8. Yes – love this and how you tied your own life experience to show the importance of differentiating! (We are a family of puzzle-lovers, too – each family vacation included at least one! And everyone worked on it, from the “littles” to the “bigs!”)

  9. What a good reminder about the need for differentiation for everyone to feel safe and successful! I love the trip we took with you to your aunt’s!

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