I first started creating my own crossword puzzles for students when I noticed one day that my class of beginning English learners weren’t benefiting at all from the prepared puzzles in our textbook. Where the book assumed that students would benefit from reading and vocabulary practice with their puzzles, my students were solving the puzzles from the shapes of the crossword puzzles and lengths of the words. They didn’t need to read the clues at all!
I was impressed with the students’ spatial abilities, but not impressed with the prepared materials I’d been given.
I needed to find materials and activities that would reinforce the skills I was teaching. Making sure that your materials actually DO what you want them to do is one of the first things you want to look for when choosing materials or designing them yourself.
The next class period, I brought a crossword I’d designed myself – all the words were the same length so the shapes and lengths wouldn’t be unintentional clues. I still smile when I remember how they eagerly took the paper, began to study it with pencils poised to answer the way they’d done before, and then slowly looked up at me with shock on their faces! Surprise! They laughed and settled in to read the clues and work out their meanings together. I’ve been using this type ever since.
Crosswords can be used in a variety of ways. In designing activities with them, the important thing to know is how to use some of the most important characteristics of good materials: information gaps and scalability.
1) Information gaps.
Designing activities with information gaps means creating situations where some students have information that other students need in order to complete a task. They are especially important in creating speaking activities.
The time I used a crossword with three true beginners who all had different primary langauges is a great example. I seated the three students with their backs to each other, gave one the shape of the puzzle, one the across clues, and one the down clues. To solve the puzzle, they all had to cooperate, to talk to each other, to give clear instructions, and to negotiate meaning.
When you’re designing lessons where you want to encourage interaction, start by providing a clear task that students can readily see how to complete, then make sure that students actually need to obtain certain information from each other to complete it. The more students can focus on the task, the less they focus on the language and the more fluent and creative their language will be.
Crosswords are also great for providing for another important characteristic of good materials: scalability.
Scalability can be super-important when you go into situations where you don’t know the level of your students. It can be a life saver for teaching demos, for instance. But it’s also useful because it let’s you re-use an activity you’ve designed for many different situations. Scalability can save preparation time over and over again.
This particular crossword, for instance, uses vocabulary for discussing citation and issues of academic integrity. It’s meant for students who are advanced enough to discuss such topics, of course, but it can be made more or less difficult in a variety of ways:
For instance, for a difficult individual activity, it can serve as a quiz after students have studied the concepts. The instructor can provide a list of words to choose from or make it more difficult by requiring students to recall the answers. The instructor could, instead, get a bit trickier by providing a list of words that contains an extra word or two so that students can’t benefit from using the process of elimination (gaining the final answer because all other answers are filled).
The activity can also serve as a a group activity so that students benefit from the collective knowledge of the group. In groups, the activity could be competitive where two teams race, or cooperative, where one team has the across clues to solve and the other has the down clues, but both teams have all the answer words. If, at the end of class, the two sections match up, students know they’ve solved the puzzle.
Rather than using the activity after students have been exposed to the concepts, it could be used as a group or individual exploration activity. Give the class access to notes or the internet and let them research to find the answers. You could even give one clue to each student. Then they’d need to interact to put each person’s clue and answer in the puzzle. You can see how you could mix these ideas to get a lot of mileage from this one activity. Once you’ve done the initial work of making the clues and shapes, you can reuse it many times and many ways.
In this case, you don’t even have to do the initial work. Leave a comment anywhere on my blog and I’ll send you the Citation Crossword for your writing students!