Crosswords Can Teach More Than Vocabulary


Worksheets tend to have a bad reputation among teachers. I remember a scene in a movie where the students came in the room, picked up worksheets off of the teacher's desk, spent all period filling them in and put them back on the teacher's desk as they left. The entire period the teacher sat at the desk behind a newspaper. Finally, the students discovered that the teacher was dead and no one had noticed. Crossword puzzles can be like that if used like that. On the other hand, crossword puzzles can help teach one or two fundamental skills that will help students throughout their academic career. I always had every student bring a good paperback dictionary and a thesaurus to class every day. The crossword puzzle worksheet, as I used it, was a group assignment. It was open dictionary and open thesaurus. The first group that completed the puzzle and got every word correct was awarded a prize- a "get out of this assignment free" card with a point range on it, or a free period to read or something. Before handing out my first crossword puzzle, I presented formal lessons on how to use a dictionary and how to use a thesaurus. I gave them assignments for both. Then, when I presented the crossword puzzle assignment, I reviewed the previous lessons and encouraged them to use these resources. I talked them through the first few words of the puzzle so they understood how the puzzles worked and how the references would help them find answers. By the third or fourth week of using this assignment, students were master-class dictionary buffs. A thesaurus was glued to virtually every student's hand all period. Students began using their dictionaries for other assignments without thinking about it. I watched a student open his thesaurus and find an alternative word while he was working on a writing assignment. If I had asked the class to do this, he would never have done it. Now, using his thesaurus was an advantage, a way to make his life easier rather than an assignment he had to do. The group skills became second nature. In the end, teaching students how to find information they need is more important than teaching them information.

Steve Simpson is the editor of Ed.Net Briefs (, a weekly online education newsletter with more than 60,000 readers. He earned his Ph.D. in communications at the University of Washington. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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