The Puzzle Factory: Employability Skills

When I begin my unit on getting a job, I always, always, always start with employability skills. This is where The Puzzle Factory: Employability Skills comes in. This activity is a super fun and engaging way to help students understand hard and soft skills associated with the world of work. Read on to learn how this works!


  • Introduce this activity by dividing students into small groups of 2-4 and have them sit together at their tables so they are across from them or in a triangle if a group of 3.
  • Welcome them to their new job at The Puzzle Factory! Explain that they are employees who work at this factory as quality control and they must test all of the puzzles to see if they are complete.
  • With almost every job, there is paperwork to be done. So, before students begin, have them assign someone to be the “paper pusher” for the first round. Because there are several rounds, the paper pusher will be changing.


  • Puzzles (the best are thrifted because you never know whether they are complete or not so it makes it perfect for this activity.
  • Note: I bought a dozen children’s puzzles–all different scenes, but I tried to keep the sizes consistant. For example, one round was 48 pieces, anothers was 100 pieces, etc….you get the idea.
  • Timers–Students used their iPads or phones.


  • For the first round give each group of students a puzzle. The puzzle will be in the box and contain a picture. When directed, students will set their timers and time themselves as they “test” (complete) the puzzle to be sure all of the pieces are there. The timer stops when the last piece is in place. When they are done, the “paper pusher” gets the form that needs to be completed with the help of their team. This form asks students to include how much time it took to do their puzzle, frustrations and successes experienced along with things they did well and could improve on as a team, not so much the puzzle itself. This form can be found below in the attachment as Puzzle Factory Paperwork Puzzle #1.
  • In round two, the process is the repeated exactly the same as round one. However, the puzzle changes. This time each group gets a puzzle that is in a box with a picture, but all the pieces have been spray painted the same color! Imagine their surprise when they see this! Again, paperwork is filled out, but the paper pusher gets rotated to a new student. This form is in the attachment as Puzzle Factory Paperwork Puzzle #2.
  • In round three, the process is the exactly the same as the first two rounds. However, the puzzle changes again. This time all of the puzzle pieces are in a plastic bag and no picture is provided. Again, paperwork is filled out, but the paper pusher, once again, gets rotated to a new student. This form is in the attachment as Puzzle Factory Paperwork Puzzle #3.
  • The final round is called the Puzzle Factory Dilemma. This could be an optional round, but I like to include it as a critical thinking and problem solving activity. Students are asked how they would solve the dilemma of missing puzzle pieces from some of the pieces. This is also in the attachment below.
  • Once all of the rounds are finished, we discuss each round and all of their responses. I equate it to actually working in a factory as a team and how their performance might be received. I don’t set a time limit for which the puzzles have to be completed in for each round, but we do talk about that possibility in factory work…that pay is based on the number of items tested, not necessarily an hourly wage. We discuss how this might potentially affect their performance, success, frustration, etc.
  • As an exit slip, I ask students to tell me what they believe hard and soft skills are and what the differences are. I’m always surprised that they have no idea! So, that leads us into the next part of the lesson/unit….
  • Teaching Employability Skills with “The Pursuit of Happyness” Movie
  • As I begin the next part of the unit, I make alot of references to the puzzle factory experience and students actually see the connections!


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

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