TEFL Speaking Activity: The Crossword Puzzle

crossword-usaf1.jpgI heart using crossword puzzles in class; not the kind where students just read and fill in words, but the jigsaw activity variety: A has half the words, B has the other half and both have to think up and give clues or definitions so the other can guess the missing words.

This type of activity is intrinsically motivating, I think, because people want to solve the puzzle and find the missing words. Crossword puzzles are good simply for this – because people tend to be motivated to do them – but also because they give students a chance to practice a highly useful real-world skill: explaining words (or the converse, figuring out a word from a definition). They will need to do this if they are speaking with someone in English who does not speak their language; they will also need the converse when they use English-English dictionaries. Also, crossword puzzles are student centered in that each pair can work independently, which frees you to circulate and observe their English.

As you might have guessed, I incorporate crossword puzzles a lot. Here’s how I like to do it:

I start with some examples – I give a few explanations or definitions and they guess the words. We can talk about the different ways of explaining: using a definition, giving an example, giving the opposite or a synonym, maybe even giving a sentence which is missing that word.

I first give students five minutes to “just start” and tell them to skip any words they don’t know. Then they can have five additional minutes – but not more – to check on new words in the dictionary. After that, however, they have to put the dictionaries away. There is too much of a risk of them getting bogged down with the dictionary, and if you’ve chosen a crossword at an appropriate level, they shouldn’t need a dictionary for every word. It’s better to give them an amount of time just for the dictionary so that time eventually expires – if you just let them use it whenever, there will be much less time speaking and much more time thumbing through the good book. And remember, the point is not to generate a perfectly worded definition…it is to communicate the meaning of the word!

Stay tuned for tips on different activities for practicing the specific vocabulary that comes up in crosswords.