Skip to main content
Mother and daughter painting an environmental mural together
Dr. Joanne Meier
Sound It Out
Joanne Meier

Are word searches a waste of instructional time?

A question came to me via the Ask the Expert (opens in a new window) service that Reading Rockets provides. With the teacher’s permission, I’m including it here to get your opinion.

We were recently told by an administrator that research shows that crossword puzzles and word search puzzles have no educational value. We have been forbidden to use them in our classes. As teacher of English Language Learners, we have found that both of these are valuable tools to use with our kids. Do you know of any research that would support our position?

My answer:
Your question is an interesting one! I know of no research that supports the use of word searches with students as a means to student achievement. That makes sense to me, though…few skills that translate to reading and writing are developed through their use. I guess one could build an argument that there are some near-point (i.e., copying) skills being used, but the relationship of near-point skills to reading isn’t very strong.

Crossword puzzles, however, seem entirely different, especially if students are not provided with a bank of words to use with the puzzle. I think an argument could be made for vocabulary development through their use. You might want to see if your administrator could elaborate on his or her concerns about crossword puzzles.

The teacher’s reply:
Here’s the thing for us as ESL teachers. We use word searches as a way to reinforce vocabulary students are learning through reading. I work with first graders, so as they search the words, they learn to look for consonant clusters, vowel combinations and the like.

I also feel it does help to develop their visual acuity for recognizing English words. They love the word searches, and even those kids who struggle with language and/or reading love to do them and feel as if they’ve accomplished something great when they’re finished. They like to compete with one another and are excited about working with words. To us, those are pluses.

We, too, think the crossword puzzles are a no-brainer. We also suspect that this was a case of prohibiting everyone from something because a few people are indiscriminately using them as busy work.

My questions to blog readers:
What do you think? Clearly this teacher thinks there are enough benefits to word searches to use them in her classroom. Her reasons are largely motivational, though. Are word searches a good use of educational time?

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
March 11, 2008