Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Word puzzles: valuable or a waste of precious time?

all puzzles from this resource
If, like me, you used to spend a lot of time on the TES Modern Languages forum in the good old days, you'll remember the pretty frequent mention of "TWALT", where the T, W and A stood for Time Wasting Activities.  These activities were things like Making a Poster, and Colouring In.  Anything easy for the teacher to plan and that students would get on with without fuss while still looking busy to the casual observer.

Do wordsearches, crosswords and other word puzzles fit into this category?  Are they time-wasting activities or do they serve a valuable educational purpose within the lesson?

Here are my thoughts, and along with some ideas for how to use them.  Admittedly I am coming at this from a primary point of view.  If your learners are older you may have a different opinion.

  • Puzzles can be used to reinforce vocabulary and structures.
  • Puzzles are a useful addition to the repertoire of Repetition activities.
  • It is easy to customise puzzles to the class or to individual children.
  • You can't use them too often or the novelty will wear off.
  • You need to have a meaningful reason within your sequence of planned activities for using the puzzles.
  • Puzzles help to develop visual acuity for recognising words in the new language.
  • Wordsearches encourage children to think about and notice aspects of the written words that will help them, such as written accents and unusual letters.
  • Learners feel a sense of achievement when they complete a puzzle.
  • The ability to complete a crossword is a useful lifelong skill.
  • Completing a puzzle is good exercise for the brain.
  • Puzzles like this are associated with recreation and so are perceived by children as a less threatening activity.
  • Crosswords need exact spelling and so children are obliged to write accurately.
  • Puzzles are useful as a five-minute activity.
  • With crosswords, clues can be given in sentence form with a word or words missing.  The missing word or words are the answer.
  • With wordsearches, the word list can be given in English and the children have to find the words in the second language, or vice versa.
  • When matching up new vocabulary, children can use a crossword puzzle to test their hypotheses, like in this activity.
  • Crosswords can be completed in teams in the style of the quiz game Crosswits.
  • Crossword grids can also be used as "grid fills", where a word list is given and the children needs to fit the words in the right place on the grid.  They need to look at the letters they already have and count the number of letters in each word.  Like this one.
  • Word spirals and waves using Festisite can be used as an alternative to a traditional wordsearch.

I make my puzzles with a program called Crossword Compiler, which I have had for years.  You have to pay for it, but it produces professional-looking results quickly and easily.  There are online, free puzzle makers available, such as Armored Penguin.

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