While there’s plenty of research around the benefits of crossword puzzles in the classroom, little research has been done on the potential benefits of word searches. They have a bad reputation amongst some teachers as “busy work” with no viable research to refute it. Still, many teachers have created educational word searches on My Word Search, suggesting at least some benefit. Spelling word searches in particular are popular with over 1,000 on My Word Search alone. But do spelling word searches help kids learn to spell?
There’s not a clear “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Based on the puzzles and commentary from teachers and researchers, the benefits of spelling word searches depend on how they are used. These four concepts cover the primary ways to use a spelling word search in the classroom.
1. There needs to be logical thought around the word search
First and foremost, a spelling word search should have logical parameters to help students reinforce concepts. Clark Aldrich works as a designer for educational simulations and serious games; he shared with the Chicago Tribune that any game “that gets you thinking about structure and what letters come before other letters” can help students. This, for him, includes word searches.
And that makes sense. Word searches reinforce patterns of words by requiring students to find double letters, common vowel pairings, and other such trends in English, or any language.
2. Spelling word searches should not be used as an assessment
This may be obvious to most teachers, but spelling word searches should not be used as an assessment. And the teachers who use My Word Search seem to agree. Many of the spelling word searches are listed as “review”. A long list of words in a large puzzle may require students to focus more, such as with the review word search below.
More importantly, spelling word searches should only be used as one component of a larger lesson. It sounds equally obvious, but this is also backed by research. Multiple studies have found that any learning tool works best when used in conjunction with other tools; spelling word searches are no different.
3. Having one cohesive thread in a word list may help
Teachers must always follow the lesson plan first. However, if a spelling word search can have a word list with common elements, it may help students. A number of the spelling word searches on My Word Search focus on words with one vowel sound, or similar vowel sounds like “short vowels”.
This teacher, for example, made a word search that focuses on an “aw” sound or [ɔ], such as in the word “author” or “awful.” Students will build their understanding of how to sound out letters in pairs rather than individually. They will also develop connections between similar sounding words.
4. Age may be a factor in the benefits of spelling word searches
While spelling exercises are already more common for younger students, some age groups may benefit more from a spelling word search than others. Very young students might not yet differentiate letters enough, or may not understand the concept of letter pairings. Older students, on the other hand, may find the exercise too trivial to be engaging. Only you will know if your class is the right age for a spelling word search.
The best way to know if spelling word searches will help your students is to try them out. If you have already added a spelling word search to your lesson plan, share what worked for your class to help inspire other teachers.
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.