Puzzles as a tool for teaching

Back in February this year, regular Education Today contributor KIRSTY BERTENSHAWlooked at the use of puzzles in the classroom.

While some subjects require the learning of information, other subjects require repeating calculations. Puzzles can be a tool for teaching, a way to motivate students rather than giving them a long list of sums that can be interpreted as boring or intimidating. Activities with purpose are more likely to engage students in the learning, stimulate kinaesthetic learners and enable deeper learning through fun and repetition of games.

Word searches and crosswords Word searches and crosswords are often undervalued - a word search with a purpose is a valid learning tool as long as the activity involves more than just finding listed words. For language lessons, try giving a vocabulary list where the student needs to translate the words first and then find those within the word search. Add an extra level of interest by hiding a phrase in the word search too. Many online word search makers allow you to do this and place the words for you as well as using algorithms to prevent any unwanted words appearing too. For science or any lesson where there are definitions to learn, use a crossword puzzle. Give the definitions in the clues so the students can fill the correct keyword into the corresponding space. You could even hide a keyword in highlighted boxes in the crossword for students to unscramble once they complete the puzzle.

Code breakers Code breakers require a key - the alphabet with each letter assigned to a number. For maths, instead of a just a list of sums for BODMAS, practise methods such as LCM HCM, BODMAS etc. Each sum reveals an answer which matches a key and reveals a letter. The list of sums can then reveal a hidden message such as the punchline to a joke. The same idea can be applied to science too, for example with calculating specific heat capacity. These activities can be differentiated to any level or used at any key stage.

Loop cards Loop games or dominoes are a great way to practice specific methods such as calculating indices. Each card contains an answer that matches another card and a question. Students work out the answer to the question on the card, and find the card with the corresponding answers. This next card will have the next question on it. Add a new level of motivation by assigning a letter to each card which can then spell out a phrase. The final question should match the answer on the original card.

Card games Specific playing cards such as times table practice cards can be used as either snap cards, or more usefully matching pairs. These can be purchased or easily made using storeroom card stock. Repeated practice with these cards helps students form links between times tables and increases the speed of their mental maths calculations. Snap and match can be produced for other subjects too. In science, chemical symbols and the element or compound names can be matched, circuit symbols and names or even kingdoms and examples of organisms can be used in lessons. Key words and definitions can be written on cards for English or geography, and English and French versions of words for language lessons. For younger students, words and pictures can be matched or form a snap.

As a start, check common teacher resource websites and try some

puzzles. This can help to quickly decide which types of puzzles are appropriate for your classes and stimulate your own creativity – don’t forget to share yours!


Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

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Learning outside the classroom

In her January column, regular Education Today contributor KIRSTY BERTENSHAWrevisited and updated a concept she had covered previously – creative ideas for learning outside the classroom.

This is a concept that has featured in this column before, but as budgets are tighter than ever, creative ideas for learning outside the classroom provide a free alternative. Outside spaces are for more than just PE and lunchtime! Spending time outside is beneficial for many reasons - exposure to

sunlight improves mood and allows the body to make vitamin D. Fresh air combined with gentle exercise increases the oxygen reaching the brain, allowing students to feel more alert and therefore increase their learning ability. A simple way to use the outside space with classes is reading outside.

A bandstand is ideal but any space where students can sit comfortably is fine. Be mindful of outdoor temperatures as coats and gloves may be required, or water in the warmer weather. Playgrounds often have markings on them such as hopscotch grids or

number grids. These can be combined with maths lessons - use current markings in playground to calculate some simple sums e.g. hopscotch grids for simple addition and subtraction. Alternatively, use chalk to make your own relevant markings e.g. timetable grids. Whole class division can be taught by getting students to organise themselves into groups. eg. 30 divided by 3 requires 10 groups of 3 children. This includes social interactions and collaborative skills as well as the academic knowledge. Science can also be taught outside - as well as ecology, the

playground can be used for sound experiments bouncing sound waves off walls, modelling atoms, compounds and even solar systems using the students themselves. Carry out tree surveys, plant real seeds and watch real plants grow and develop instead of just teaching the theory. Nature hunts in hedgerows and observing weather patterns and changing seasons are in the national curriculum and can be outside activities too. Simple wind speed measuring systems can be constructed from plastic cups and pencils, allowing students to make a record of the wind speed every day, which can then be displayed as a graph. Alternatively, collect the rainwater and measure the amount of rain per day. Compare data – does it rain more on windy days? Maybe even take part in wildlife surveys such as the RSPCA’S Big Garden Birdwatch this January. Outside areas are also great for drama and creativity. Art classes can

be held on the field where paint spills are less of a mess to tidy up. Crayon rubbings of outside spaces can be used for textures, and leaves and twigs can be collected to make colleges or camouflaged animal pictures. Music classes can be held outside, exploring the acoustic properties of different parts of the outdoor areas. Make and design treasure hunts using clues, themed to whichever

topic is being taught. E.g. place number or letters around the area and then have a multiple-choice clue that corresponds to the markings. Or use the student’s English classes to write poems with clues in them to find the hidden treasure in the school grounds. Why not stage historic battles outside when teaching history? Or

become explorers and imagine sailing across to new lands, making new discoveries. Learn languages outside the classroom by identifying objects in the corridors or outside…. the only limit to the possibilities is your imagination or the weather!

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