Word searches have a long history of strong opposition - and equally strong support. After hearing both lovers and haters, it made me question whether word searches are a waste of time in the classroom.
In the past, I've worked at a school where we were told that word searches weren't allowed to be used in the classroom anymore. While I agree that word searches are not an all of the time activity and that they are not a necessary tool towards academic achievement, it still made me question why the ban?
After conducting some research joined with my observations, I'd say that word search activities are not a complete waste of time, so there is no need to put a bad label on them. While it is true that word searches are not directly linked to student achievement, this type of activity does help develop a few important skills.
So, what are the benefits of Word Searches?
1. Help develop word recognition
Developing word recognition is particularly useful for emerging readers who must pay attention to the letters of a word when looking for them.
2. Boost working memory
By looking at the word on the list, the student must try and remember the letters to spell the word as they search for it. To enhance this benefit or increase the difficulty, you could remove the general list of words to find and only give students clues as to what the words are (like a crossword puzzle) -- This will require them to work from a memory bank of words instead.
3. Assist in learning context clues
There are many kinds of context clues that build fluency. Themed word searches contain semantic or meaning clues. For example, in aSummer Fun word search you'd expect to find words such as sunglasses, ice cream, vacation, beach, etc.
4. Extend vocabulary
Word searches are a useful tool to introduce new and also review vocabulary. I've used this concept to create word searches for my students to have meaningful themes for vocabulary work such as adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and nouns. In those word search packets, I extend the work to require students to look up definitions and build sentences from the words found in the word search. Another way in which I have used a word search is when starting a new topic that has a lot of new terms. For example, when starting a unit on Government, I'd create a word search with key terminology that we will be exploring and learning throughout the unit.
5. Improve spelling
Being exposed to words helps with remembering how to spell them. Plus, requiring to look for words and being able to visualize the order of the letters as a strategy, assists with remembering how to spell. So another useful way to incorporate a word search activity in the classroom would be to use the weekly spelling list in a word find. If you don't have the time to make one, give your students a blank template to make a word search using the weekly spelling list. Afterward, students can swap their made word searches with another student to complete.
6. Can be differentiated
A word search can easily be differentiated by
- increasing or decreasing the number of words to find
- the spelling difficulty of the words to find
- set a timer to challenge speed
- remove the word list and require students to find as many words as possible (based on a theme or a particular set of words).
7. Low-stress activity
I think this point is particularly important for setting as an early finisher task. It seems unfair to load more tough work onto a student because they finished early compared to their peers. If a word search is an option my students can do as an early finisher task, they look forward to it because it is a bit of a break... but, a break with still some value! Again, I wouldn't use them all of the time as an early finisher task, but there is no need to remove them from your collection of resources entirely.
So, at the end of the day, while word searches are not a MUST in the classroom, they are not something to dismiss as having no educational value either. I wouldn't recommend using them all of the time, but they still can be a handy teaching tool if used in a meaningful way.
I'm open to your thoughts on this topic too. Please feel free to comment on this post. I'd love to hear:
- Do you think word searches provide any educational value?
- How do you use word searches in your classroom?
- Or maybe, why do you think that they shouldn't be used in the classroom at all?
If you decide that you would still like to use word searches in your classroom, you can grab a few themed ones for free from my TPT store.
Be sure to grab the latest Summer Fun Word Search Freebie too.
A 21st century School Teacher, Mother, and Wife.