When I was a new teacher I was told in no uncertain terms that giving children word puzzles was an utter waste of time. We had to ensure that every moment the student was in the classroom was filled with learning opportunities.
Now, almost 20 years later. I am reviewing that very rigid attitude. In fact, when I look back, I think I ignored it anyway. But I didn’t know why. My pedagogy was not as developed a superpower as it has become recently. Now, if someone challenged me on the use of anagrams, word searches or other cryptic puzzles I would be able to answer cleverly that these stretch the ability of student, encourages logical and lateral thinking and it engages the imagination and allows a student to develop concentration to perform and complete a task.
I have pushed it further. Recently as a revision tool, I gave students squared paper (that I had stolen from Maths) and set them the task of creating a word puzzle based on characters, plot and key themes and ideas based on a specific text they had read. I told them to make sure they had an idea of the solution in order to help others if assistance were needed, then as a prepare to learn activity a few days later, I gave the students a puzzle created by a friend. That worked. It was fun, enjoyable and challenging. There is something similar in the ‘Teacher’s Toolkit’ I think and if there isn’t, there should be!
Sometimes we assume that all our lessons have to be heavily resourced in order to show that we have planned. But something like this, as a culmination of a lot of hard work, challenges and encourages learning and revision. While the students were doing their peer’s puzzles they were asking all the questions I would have normally asked. ‘Which theme connects Lennie and Curley’s Wife?’ Just one familiar example.
We should never underestimate the power of low-tech. Audio-visual is good; but so is pen and paper. Raw creativity is just as much to be praised and encouraged as that build on PC research. Giving students the ability to question and support each other is key to duplicating our presence and ensuring that all students get a chance to learn and make rapid progress.
So, 20 years on, I will continue to use word searches, crossword puzzles, anagrams and cryptic clues because without them information gathering is mundane, and also Deep thought would have no committed puzzlers in 30 years time!