It seems I am always battling my classroom schedule and trying to fit it all in. No matter how many minutes they add to our day each year (30 minutes more over the next 3 years) it just never seems to be enough. That is why I am always on the hunt for ways to increase student success in my classroom. We have to make the most of every instructional moment in order to achieve our learning goals. One of the best ways I have found for challenging and engaging my students in learning, even on their “downtime,” is with puzzles.
Puzzles are one of the simplest ways I have found to increase student success.
Puzzles increase student engagement. Quite simply they are fun, and used correctly they can challenge and enrich student learning in the classroom. Word and number puzzles are excellent ways to challenge and engage fast finishers. You can add a few extra minutes of learning into your day by making puzzles available during inside recess, or “Fun Fridays”. As a bonus, most children find puzzles relaxing and it can calm nerves before a test, or quite a room after a high energy assembly. There are lots of free sights for creating word puzzles for use in the classroom. My favorite is Discovery Education: Puzzlemaker.
1. Crossword Puzzles
Crossword puzzles are a great way for students to practice vocabulary. This practice can increase student success with recalling the meanings of words they need to learn for a unit of study. They can be easily differentiated by the teacher. You can pre-fill in some of the letters to give a student some extra hints or, write the page number of the answer next to the clue on the puzzle. Add a word bank that children can choose words from and you can use it for phonics practice.
“Which word has an a sound like the a in cake?”
“Which word has 2 syllables and rhymes with place?”
2. Word Searches
Word searches increase student success with looking for spelling patterns in words. While looking for a word in a crossword puzzle students will spell it over and over in their minds. They will look for chunks of words, and spelling patterns. They will also, differentiate between real and nonsense words. Word searches can vary in challenge. They can have a the word list written out for children to find, causes like a crossword puzzle would have, or picture clues for students to link the image to a word. This is one of my student’s favorite activities during free time.
3. Jigsaw puzzles
Jigsaw puzzles can be used in a variety of ways to maximize learning time. A large puzzle left on a back table can help students work on visual discrimination skills. Smaller puzzles divided between partners is a great cooperative building exercise for students to practice working as a team. Flip a puzzle over and write word lists in ABC order, then have students put the words in order to complete the puzzle instead of using the pictures. A side benefit is that working with jigsaw puzzles can help improve fine motor skills, which is tied to improved handwriting and writing speed. You can often find blank puzzles at craft store which you can program with sentences from a poem students are working on, and then give them time to reassemble your puzzle from memory.
4. Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords etc…
While these word games are not strictly puzzles. the act of trying to create a word from a jumble of letters stretches a student’s thinking about phonics rules, and the construction of words. You can keep students accountable to actually participating in the game by having students write down the words they create. These are not only great for inside recess, but they make a fabulous center activity as well.
One of my favorite math warm up activities is guess the number. Students see a list of 3-5 clues on the board such as, “I am an odd number. I am larger than 3. I am smaller than the sum of 3 and 3. What number am I?” My students love to work on these small math riddles for the first few minutes of math lessons. It forces them to problem solve, and use logical reasoning skills. One riddle a day only takes about 5 minutes. Students love it and I have found that it can really help with transitioning them into a math lesson.Adding puzzles to your instruction gives students the opportunity to problem solve..#Teachers Click To Tweet
Adding puzzles to your classroom instruction gives students the opportunity to problem solve and feel successful with it in a short amount of time. It can be a quick and effective way to engage students, increase student success, calm nerves, and have a focused classroom. It is one of my favorite things to add to my instruction and make it a goal to have students work on some type of puzzle every day.