Despite interest from teachers, research is limited concerning the educational value of word searches. Ample research has been done on the educational value of crossword puzzles. Without similar research for word searches, however, many teachers feel at a loss. Is there such a thing as an educational word search? If so, what exactly are the educational benefits? Many teachers have discussed the subject, and this article aims to understand the various perspectives.
Opposing Viewpoints on the Educational Value of Word Searches
As expected, there are two camps for this discussion: teachers who find educational value in word searches, and those who don’t.
Those lines do blur slightly with teachers who will give word searches as extra credit, but feel they are time-fillers more than anything else. As one teacher stated, “I have a difficult time matching word searches to specific lesson outcomes.” These teachers tend to believe that word searches are used by lazy teachers who want an easy way to fill time rather than create a comprehensive lesson plan.
Those in favor of word searches for the classroom often argue that the educational benefit comes not from the subject matter, but from the language and problem-solving skills required for a word search.
Word searches provide a recognition of English letters. Plus, they can reinforce spelling through “decoy” words, or words that almost look like the real word but have some letters out of order. (Word-Buff also points out the benefits of “red-herrings” in word searches as a spelling exercise.) The search for decoy words helps students develop an understanding of context clues in other subjects, as well.
Teachers in favor of word searches also pointed out that the word list can be altered when making a word search with a comprehensive word search maker. One teacher suggests changing the word list to images, but teachers could also change the word list in other ways.
Some word searches, for example, have a word list that differs from the words in the puzzle. Foreign language word searches often change the word list so that the word list is in one language and the answers in the puzzle are in another. Math teachers, similarly, might put an equation into the word list and the answer to the equation in the word search.
Some teachers also believe that word searches give students confidence and enhance creativity as an independent learning exercise, especially when students make their own word searches.
Subject Matter of Educational Word Searches
Subject matter may play a role in how a teacher feels about educational word searches as well. ESL teachers and special education teachers see particular benefit from word searches. Elementary teachers also favor word searches more than teachers of other grade levels.
ESL Word Searches
ESL teachers, by and large, believe in the educational value of word searches. One ESL teacher stated that word searches reinforce the vocabulary students learn through reading, especially for young students. The word search requires students to look for consonant clusters, vowel combinations, and more.
Another ESL teacher said this regarding word searches:
“In ESL the list of words for a word search puzzle are invaluable as we practice pronouncing new words for the next day’s science lesson… it’s a great ESL tool.”
An ESL teacher who teaches Asian students in particular also noted the pronunciation and spelling benefits of word searches.
“I teach ESL students in Asia and they absolutely LOVE Word Search puzzles. When I watch them find the words, they repeat the spelling over and over again. For example, I hear ‘ai’, ‘ai’, ‘ai’.”
One special education teacher pointed out that the exercise itself, rather than the subject matter, can be helpful. There is a benefit to special education students solving word searches in order to develop “the parts of the brain needed to be successful in other areas.”
Similarly, some teachers of specialized subjects appreciated their value as an add-on exercise.
“As a music teacher I sometimes assign crosswords and word searches to reinforce music vocabulary… Most substitute teachers cannot teach music, so the puzzles can also prevent my sick days from being total losses for my music classes.”
Educational Word Searches at My Word Search
To see how other teachers make word searches for a particular subject, visit our browse page. Or, to learn more about how our word search maker can help you make word searches for your classroom, visit our blog. Seeing examples of educational word searches allows teachers to have a strong understanding of how to make effective educational word searches for their classes.
The best way to know if word searches are effective for your students is to make your own. If you find or make one that is especially helpful for your students, give it a rating in the left-hand sidebar, and share it in the comments for other teachers to share with their students.
Kristen Seikaly used her artistic background, research skills, and love for the internet to launch her first blog, Operaversity. Now she uses the skills to connect teachers, parents, and game enthusiasts with Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. She studied music at the University of Michigan, and now lives in Philadelphia.